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Giovanni Battista SOMIS (1686 - 1763)
Sonate da Camera Opus II per violino e cembalo
Sonata in d minor, op. 2,1 [6:34]
Sonata in B flat, op. 2,2 [6:36]
Sonata in c minor, op. 2,3 [5:27]
Sonata in A, op. 2,4 [7:21]
Sonata in e minor, op. 2,5 [6:26]
Sonata in G, op. 2,6 [6:32]
Sonata in F, op. 2,7 [6:39]
Sonata in C, op. 2,8 [6:48]
Sonata in b minor, op. 2,9 [6:55]
Sonata in g minor, op. 2,10 [6:18]
Sonata in a minor, op. 2,11 [7:28]
Sonata in D, op. 2,12 [6:44]
Roberto Noferini (violin), Chiara Cattani (harpsichord)
rec. December 2013, Chiesa di San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo (RA), Italy. DDD
TACTUS TC681908 [79:54]

Giovanni Battista Somis is an example of a composer whose name regularly crops up in liner-notes, but whose music is otherwise hardly known and is seldom performed. He is best known in his capacity as the teacher of some famous violinist-composers of the 18th century, such as Jean-Marie Leclair. However, he was an important composer in his own right. Unfortunately only a relatively small part of his output has been preserved. An autograph catalogue once in the possession of his descendants included no fewer than 152 violin concertos most of which are lost.

Somis was born in Turin in a family of musicians. His father and his brother were violinists, and his mother was the sister of a violinist. In 1696 he entered the service of Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy as a musico suonatore della banda dei violini. Traditionally there were strong ties between Savoy and France. Vittorio Amedeo was married to the niece of King Louis XIV, Anne-Marie d'Orléans; this marriage was arranged by his mother, Marie-Jeanne-Baptiste who was of French birth. Somis dedicated his sonatas op. 1 to her (available on Glossa GCD 921807).

In 1703 Somis was sent to Rome to study with Arcangelo Corelli; here he enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Ottoboni. After his return he entered the court orchestra again; in 1715 he became leader of the violin section, and in 1736 director of the orchestra. During his career he had several opportunities to travel to France; performances in the Concert Spirituel in 1733 are documented. Hubert Le Blanc, although an opponent of the growing influence of the violin - and the Italian style - in France, described Somis' style of playing in glowing terms. "A single down-bown ... seemed like a stretched silken cord which (in order not to be boring with the bareness of a single sound) is surrounded with flowers, with silver festoons, with golden filigrees mixed with diamonds, rubies, garnets, and above all with pearls. One saw them spill out from his fingertips". No wonder that he was a sought-after teacher. Several of his pupils became renowned violinists: Jean-Marie Leclair, Jean-Pierre Guignon, Felice Giardini, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, Gaetano Pugnani and Gaspard Fritz.

The twelve violin sonatas op. 2 were published in Turin in 1723 and dedicated to 'His Holy Majesty Vittorio Amedeo, King of Sicily, Jerusalem and Cyprus'. There is a similarity with the sonatas op. 1 in that they comprise three movements, not - as most sonatas of his time - in the order fast - slow - fast, but slow - fast - fast. In this respect they point to the future as this order of tempi would become the standard around the middle of the 18th century. The first movement is mostly rather short and serves as kind of introduction, characterised by "smooth gentleness", according to Chiara Cattani in her liner-notes. The set can be divided into two halves. The first six sonatas belong stylistically to the baroque era. The two fast movements require much double-stopping as they include many long passages in two parts. These are completely absent in the sonatas 7 to 12. As a result these sound more 'modern', bearing traces of the galant idiom which manifested itself from the 1730s onward.

The title of this disc could suggest that these sonatas include a concertante keyboard part. That is not the case. They are scored for violin and basso continuo as were most sonatas of that time. However, in this recording Chiara Cattani delivers an almost concertante realization of the continuo part in the fast movements. There seems good reason for this given that a number of movements include quite a lot of notes in the bass. She gives a very good account of the bass part, but sometimes it is confined to harmonic support. Often I missed hearing clear rhythmic support, and I would also have liked a stronger differentiation between stressed and unstressed notes.

A copy of the op. 2 set has been preserved in the library of the court orchestra of Dresden, made by the orchestra's star violinist Johann Georg Pisendel. He was a great lover of Italian music but very critical towards tendencies of triviality which he noted in late compositions by Vivaldi and other music from that time. The fact that he included these sonatas by Somis in the library of the orchestra can be considered a kind of quality indicator. Apparently he rated them highly. This recording proves him right. Roberto Noferini has done a fine job by bringing them to our attention in such technically assured and musically compelling interpretations. He articulates well and adds some nice ornamentation, but not too much; rightly so, considering that the violin part is busy enough as it is, especially in the first six sonatas.

Any lover of baroque violin music should investigate this recording.

Johan van Veen


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