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Evaristo e Joseph Dall'Abaco - "Padre e figlio"
see end of review for track listing
Les Basses Réunis (Bruno Cocset, alto a la bastarda, tenor violin, cello), Emmanuel Jacques (tenor violin), Esmé de Vries (cello), Bertrand Cuiller (harpsichord))/Bruno Cocset
rec. 14-17 June 2009, Pampigny, Switzerland. DDD
AGOGIQUE AGO011 [62:20]

This disc is devoted to a father and a son who were both composers but it is the son who is at the centre of the programme. He was a cellist and so is Bruno Cocset. That explains the latter's interest in the compositions of Dall'Abaco junior. He was active at a time when the cello was fully established in the music scene. The instrument had its origins in Italy, but when exactly it took the form it had in Dall'Abaco's time is hard to say. Some years ago Cocset devoted a disc to the "birth of the cello" (review).
Evaristo Felice was born in Verona into a family of high social standing. He was educated at the violin and the cello, possibly by Giuseppe Torelli. In 1696 he moved to Modena where he was active as a violinist and in 1704 he worked at the court in Munich. The reigning elector had to flee to the southern Netherlands following a defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession. Dall'Abaco followed him to Brussels and here his son, Joseph-Marie-Clément (or Giuseppe Maria) was born in 1710. In 1715 the elector returned to Munich and Dall'Abaco with him. He was appointed Konzertmeister of the court orchestra and played a central role in the music life of the city. When the elector died in 1726 Dall'Abaco's was gradually moved into the sidelines.
After his return to Munich Dall'Abaco became his son’s first music teacher. He packed him off to Venice to extend his musical education. When Giuseppe Maria returned he apparently couldn't find employment in Munich. Moving to Bonn, he joined the electoral chapel in 1729. In 1738 he was appointed director of the court chamber orchestra. He seems to have enjoyed the freedom to travel across Europe as a cello virtuoso. Appearances in this capacity in London and other English towns and in Vienna are documented. In 1753 he left Bonn for Verona. There is no sign of any musical activities after that date. He died in 1805, the same year as another cello virtuoso, Luigi Boccherini.
As a composer Giuseppe Maria was not very productive. Nearly fory cello sonatas from his pen have been preserved and eleven Capricci for cello without accompaniment. These form the core of this disc: Bruno Cocset has recorded all of them; the last is unfinished. They have come down to us in a 19th-century manuscript, and it is impossible to say when they may have been written. It has been noted, for instance by Philippe Mercier in New Grove, that his style is rather conservative: "Dall'Abaco's cello sonatas, despite the advent of the new galant and pre-Classical styles, retain the gravity of the Baroque and the broad melodic span inherited, through his father, from Legrenzi, Bassani, Vitali and Lully (...)". This judgement is supported by these capricci. The American cellist Elinor Frey, who recently devoted a disc to the early history of the cello (review), included some of these capricci in her programme as well, and states: "I was continually captivated by Dall'Abaco's ability, like Bach's, to generate rhythmic interest through changes of register, the intriguing perception of multiple voices, and a great and often noble, intimate, and tragic elegance". She is not the only one to see a connection with Bach. Cocset writes in his liner notes: "Written for solo cello, they follow on from the late seventeenth-century Bolognese ricercars and J.S. Bach's Suites for unaccompanied cello, thus forming a bridge between those compositions and the solo virtuosic pieces of the nineteenth century". One could easily imagine them as preludes to one of Bach's cello suites.
"They are amazingly free and varied in style, sometimes bold, sometimes melancholy, alternating dances with melodies or narrative prose, and with a natural, unpretentious virtuosity showing technical prowess and innovation", Cocset writes. Those features come off well in his interpretation. These are very interesting and musically captivating pieces and Cocset delivers an equally captivating performance. They fully deserve to be part of the standard repertoire of cellists.
The inclusion of pieces by Dall'Abaco senior is less convincing. I am not quite sure why Cocset felt it necessary to incorporate his music into this programme. Evaristo Felice hasn't been treated that badly by the recording industry: the catalogue includes various discs of his music, for instance by Concerto Köln. He isn't done justice here as we hear only single movements from sonatas from his op. 1 and op. 3. Moreover, these are arranged for the line-up of the ensemble. The selection is also rather one-sided: nine out of eleven are slow movements. They are well played, although the tempo of the presto assai from the Sonata XII from op. 1, played as a harpsichord solo, makes almost a caricature of this piece.
The capricci are the main attraction of this disc. Their quality and the performance by Cocset are reason enough to purchase. For a more balanced picture of Dall'Abaco senior one should look elsewhere.
Johan van Veen

Track listing
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO (1675-1742)
Sonata I in C, op. 1,1: largo [3:17]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO (1710-1805)
Capriccio 1 [3:22]
Capriccio 2 [3:27]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata IV à 3 in G, op. 3,4: largo [1:54]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 3 [5:35]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata IV in a minor, op. 1,4: largo [1:47]
Sonata V in g minor, op. 1,5: allegro [2:04]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 4 [3:49]
Capriccio 5 [1:35]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata II à 3 in F, op. 3,2: adagio [2:02]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 6 [2:19]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata VI in D, op. 1,6: adagio [2:50]
Sonata II in d minor, op. 1,2: largo e cantabile [2:54]
Sonata XII in E, op. 1,12: presto assai [1:19]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 7 [4:04]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata V in g minor, op. 1,5: adagio [1:18]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 8 [2:55]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata XI in B flat, op. 1,11: largo [1:59]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 9 [1:57]
Capriccio 10 [4:14]
Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO
Sonata I à 3 in C, op. 3,1: largo [3:16]
Joseph Marie Clément DALL'ABACO
Capriccio 11 [4:22]