Marcello is a well-known name, and most music-lovers will claim to know at least one piece by him: the
oboe concerto. However, Benedetto is the best-known of the Marcellos, and he was the most prolific composer of the two. In fact the
oboe concerto is by his elder brother Alessandro. The latter had many other interests, such as poetry and painting, and was also involved in politics in his home-town Venice. His fame is largely based on his oboe concerto whose popularity largely stems from the fact that it was (is?) often used in commercials. That makes the recording of the set of six concertos which was published in Augsburg around 1738 most welcome.
These concertos seem quite conventional as they have the then common texture of three movements: fast - slow - fast. However, it is notable that Marcello exactly specified the required scoring of fifteen instruments divided into six groups: two oboe/violin pairs (with flutes as alternatives to the oboes), two ripieno
violins for both the first and the second violin part, cello and two violas, and lastly a second cello, violone, bassoon and harpsichord. That doesn't rule out a performance with a smaller ensemble. The printed edition says: "These concertos are laid out in such a way that they can be performed in any Academy". This refers to the Arcadian Academies which were quite popular at the time. The first had been founded in Rome but soon other cities had their own academies. Alessandro Marcello was a prominent member of the Venetian academy. He had - according to the habit - a nickname: Eterio Stinfalico, and this name appears also on the title page of this set: La cetra di Eterio Stinfalico
The concertos are quite diverse in character and in his liner-notes Giorgio Sasso questions Marcello's authorship of the complete set. "[The] impression is that the editor of the collection had forced a range of different pieces - with not all necessarily written by the same hand - into an archetypal form". The treatment of the various instruments and instrumental groups is different as well. In the adagio of the Concerto No. 3
we hear a dialogue between oboe and violin, with the strings playing pizzicato
. Elsewhere two oboes play in pairs, or a violin gets a solo episode. In some movements Marcello makes use of chromaticism.
The famous oboe concerto opens the programme. It is usually played in d minor, but Sasso refers to the set of scores kept in the Schwerin library where the concerto is in the key of c minor. One wonders why then it is played here again in d minor. Sasso casts again doubts on its authenticity. It was transcribed for harpsichord by Bach, and he suggests that Bach may be its author rather than Alessandro Marcello. Undoubtedly the adagio is this concerto's highlight. It is a wonderfully expressive piece, and the soloist has many opportunities for ornamentation. Andrea Mion uses them well.
I would like to have welcomed this disc without reservation, and the performances give every reason to do so. However, they are largely spoiled by the recording. Firstly, the performances took place in a seemingly pretty large church, and that was a bad idea. The acoustic is far too spacious for music like this. When I started listening I had the feeling of having entered a church and hearing an ensemble playing somewhere at the back. In the opening movement of the oboe concerto there is a lack of balance between the solo instrument and the strings. The latter are too far in the background and this compromises the integration between the oboe and the strings. During the listening session I sometimes had the impression of listening to a mono recording: the sound is often too narrow.
These fine performances deserved a better recording.
Johan van Veen