The Tactus label's promotion of Italian composers may encourage those dismayed by the unravelling of so much in art music. We witness the relentless "dumbing down" of concert programming, Yo-Yo Ma’s quest for yet more seemingly vapid but lucrative projects, or, say, the gutting of Canada’s CBC Radio.
Little-known Baroque composers are a Tactus sub-speciality, alongside releases of Vivaldi and at least one fine album of D. Scarlatti’s sonatas (TC 681903). The label is assembling a library of works by, among others, Alessandro Besozzi (TC 700202), Giovanni Battista Martini (TC 701301), the Italian-Argentine Domenico Zipoli (TC 682602), and Angelo Berardi.
The first thing anyone considering this Tactus release of Berardi’s music should know is that it is not for solo violin, as the collection’s title suggests: it has harpsichord accompaniment. The multi-movement “Canzonas” are each under ten minutes long and have thematic mottos. These include He who Does it Pays
(Canzona Prima), Movement Gives me Life
(Terza) and My Thinking is Obstinate
(ostinato: unwavering?) (Quinta). All are rather ambiguous, and meanings are pretty much anyone’s guess.
Berardi was a prolific composer of mostly sacred music, and recognized in his lifetime for writings in music theory and counterpoint. His career took him to Montefiascone, Viterbo, Tivoli and Spoleto, ending in Rome's Santa Maria, Trastevere, in 1692, as Maestro di Cappella. Berardi recognized the genius of Arcangelo Corelli yet remained on good terms with Bologna’s Giovanni Paolo Colonna, when he and Corelli were entangled in disputes.
The Tactus liner-notes say Berardi’s stylistic profile includes a sense of fantasy and richness of inspiration — so much so that this, his only set of works for the violin, covers the whole of the instrument's abilities and expressive variety. These notes are redolent with such rich, scholarly detail, usually provided in a quaintly unidiomatic translation. He presumably died surrounded by caged canaries and other birds that he bequeathed, with a self-portrait and a few other things, to pupils and others; hence the painting on the CD’s cover.
With his set of “Canzonas” or “Sinfonie” he clearly set out to cover a wide musical gamut. An historically accurate instrument is used, along with such a mode of performance, while the harpsichord is used as 'backup' or continuo. The music has immediate appeal and is lively for the late 17th
century, to my ear, with most movements being outwardly simple, dance-like, pastoral, yet embracing a variety of moods. Those not immersed in the Baroque before Bach may want to take this in smallish bites before expecting the album to release its full flavours.
This CD will suit anyone with an ear for the period, or who craves well-elaborated yet straightforward music out of the mainstream. And if you fit either of these profiles, you will certainly not regret snapping up Tactus's Zipoli CD (TC 682602) as well. Both belong to a time when the language of sonatas, sinfonias, and canzonas was in flux, and when keyboards and the violin were in the early days of being explored for their possibilities as solo instruments. Berardi’s music is not liable to leave one agog: its charms are subtle, and certainly show little of the extravagance of post-Baroque violin composers such as Pietro Locatelli or Jean-Marie Leclair. Even so, with exposure this music reveals occasional flashes of flamboyance.
This album makes special mention of — or is it an outright dedication to? — Bologna’s Museo della Musica. This institution holds the only known copy, dated 1760, of these Sinfonie a violino solo
. The notes say that this manuscript keeps company “with thousands of other treasures”. Such gems from Bologna-based Tactus encourage wondering about the musical treasures yet to be unearthed by this enterprising label.