Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768)
Overture No. 1 in B flat (1716) [13:41]
Overture No. 2 in F (1716) [19:23]
Overture No. 3 in B flat (1716) [13:02]
Overture No. 4 in F (1716) [13:35]
Overture No. 6 in B flat (1716) [10:45]
Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel
rec. Melanchthon-Kirche, Köln, August 1993 BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93893 [70:26]
The unsuspecting listener who sees the title, "Veracini Overtures", and expects a collection of pieces like Rossini's will be disappointed. These aren't theatrical curtain-raisers or free-standing concert pieces, but, rather, "overtures" in the Baroque sense: an introductory movement, usually a "French overture", followed by a series of contrasting dances. What we call Bach's four orchestral suites were, similarly, labelled "overtures"; Veracini's are the same sort of affair, mostly built on a smaller scale.
These pieces make fetching listening, though what lingers in the memory is their general vigour and energy, rather than any particular melodic distinction. There are, however, a few rather advanced harmonic turns, notably in the lyrical Appoggiata movement of the Fourth Suite. Nor is his treatment of the standard dance forms routine. The Menuetts are mobile and flowing, though always graceful. The Gavotte in the Second Overture is practically a hornpipe, while the movement marked Gavotte ou Rondeau in the Fourth distinctly leans towards the latter. Nor are the Sarabandes the solemn affairs they are in Bach. The one in the Second Overture is unusually full-textured, with interior parts mirroring the theme in a legato counterpoint; in that of the First Overture, emphatic string chords forcefully mark the beats.
The Sixth Overture departs from its predecessors in several respects. The opening movement is not a formal "French overture" but an Allegro marked by rollicking descending figures. The oboes, which played a supporting function in the other scores, are assigned prominent obbligato roles, particularly in the third movement, where they maintain a duple rhythm against the violins' triplet motion. The score concludes with a striking unison Menuett.
Reinhard Goebel directs stylishly. The slow introductions of the "French overtures" are stately, almost Handelian, with the dotted figures played straight, not double- or triple-dotted in the manner of a few decades ago. The lively passages and movements are dashing and spirited; buoyant phrasing keeps things from sounding hurried. Only a few awkward cadential ritards, particularly early on, mar the overall effect. Musica Antiqua Köln supplies a surprisingly full-bodied tone for a chamber-sized period-practice ensemble: the sonority feels weighted and firmly grounded even in the more sprightly movements. Bach and Telemann, however, would have found opportunities to lighten the textures; Veracini does not, producing a certain sameness over the course of the program. On the plus side, the violins bring off the whirling runs in the Gavotte of the Second Overture with spanking articulations, and are nearly as impressive in the Allegro of the Third.
The reproduction is vivid, but watch the volume level: at too high a setting, the first tutti — and, presumably, subsequent ones — sound strident. The conductor's programme note discusses Veracini's six suites, though only five are included here, as in the original DG Archiv issue. No reason for this particular omission is given; oddly, Volume One of the Naxos Veracini series offers the identical programme, relegating the Fifth Overture to Volume Two.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based composer, conductor and journalist.