Naples 1759 Pietro PULLJ (c. 1717-after 1759)
Sonata à Flauto Solo è Basso [Del Sigr: Pietro Pullj] in B flat major (1759) [6:10] Anonymous
Sonata à Flauto Solo è Basso in D minor [5:54] Pietro PULLJ
Sonata à Flauto Solo è Basso [Del Sigr: Pietro Pullj] in F major (1759) [5:56] Anonymous
Sonata à Flauto Solo è Basso in C major [5:36] Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737)
Sonata Di Flauto Solo è Basso in C minor (1759) [8:59] Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755)
Le Quattro Stagioni Del Anno (1747) [9:10] Anonymous
Sonata Di Flauto Solo è Basso in F major (1759) [6:51] Pietro PULLJ
Sonata à Flauto Solo è Basso [Del Sigr: Pietro Pullj] in G minor (1759) [7:39]
Rebecca Rosen (cello); Claudio Barduco Ribeiro (harpsichord)
La Cicala/Inês d’Avena (recorder)
rec. 2015, Oud-Katholiekekerk, Delft, the Netherlands PASSACAILLE 1013 [56:15]
It turns out that while I was writing my review of La Cicala’s last CD from Passacaille, Dolce Napoli in May 2015 they were already hard at work cooking up this new collection. Inês d’Avena’s booklet notes tell us that these works were a discovery she made at the Biblioteca di San Pietro a Majella, “the Parthenopean treasure trove that still holds much of the compositional legacy of the four ancient conservatoires of Naples”. The five recorder sonatas here complete a set from those 1759 manuscripts that was started on the last release with the Sonata in G major by Pietro Pullj. The other anonymous works derive from a collection in New York, and Durante’s Le Quattro Stagioni Del Anno can be found in Lisbon. References and documentation are all given in the booklet. 1759 refers to the date the works were copied, not their dates of composition. The recorder was in decline at this time after the peak of its popularity in the 1720s and 1730s and d’Avena reckons they were probably written around twenty years earlier. That they were copied at all and can be defined as works for ‘flauto’ rather than ‘flauto a traversino’, at least shows there was still some interest from someone at the time.
Reduced to three players, ensemble La Cicala is very much in chamber music mode in this recording, but with their superbly recreated instruments and in the case of the cello an actual antique, the sound is nicely full and is certainly vibrant and atmospheric throughout. Pietro Pullj as the central figure deserves a little filling out, and it seems most of his significant output as a composer was in the operatic sphere. His credentials include a mention as “the best archlute player of this city”, but other than a few other sketchy details there isn’t a great deal to be found on Pullj. As things stand at the moment if you pop his name into a search engine online you are more likely to be referred to La Cicala than anywhere else.
Pullj’s sonatas are not untypical for the period, but are filled with deliciously playful features such as the bird-like trills in the first movement of the Sonata in F major, and in the lyrical expressiveness and searching harmonic language of his slow movements. Harpsichordist Claudio Ribeiro leans into these chords with gusto at times, creating a carpeted texture of sound over which the recorder floats with ethereal charm. Theatricality is by no means absent in these pieces, and there are plenty of moments that might as easily have descended from something operatic whether tragic or ‘buffo’. The mood of the last sonata in this collection in G minor is particularly expressive in this regard, only the final All[egro] delivering that rousing finale, a happy ending tempered only by that persisting minor key.
It is a shame the composer’s name has been lost for the two anonymous sonatas in this collection, as these are also very fine works. In particular the lovely Largo of the Sonata in D minor stands out, but the highly virtuoso nature of the Sonata in F major is also a stern test for any player. Francesco Mancini’s Sonata in C minor offers contrast with its use of damped strings in the harpsichord, allowing the cello more prominence and creating a lively bounce in the final All[egro]. The appeal of anything called ‘The Four Seasons’ will always make us take note, and Francesco Durante’s La Quattro Stagioni Del Anno for solo harpsichord is rich in pictorial quirkiness, from the energy-sapping heat of summer to the violence of winter storms.
These premiere recordings bring to light a rich resource of previously unheard musical material from a period in which dominant names such as Bach and Scarlatti contrast sharply with an undercurrent of music and musicians who until now have occupied only library shelf space for hundreds of years, awaiting someone like Inês d’Avena to come along and breathe life into them. This is a real musical treat as is La Cicala’s previous recording, proving that a little exploration beyond well-trodden musical paths can reveal that of which we have been sadly ignorant. I very much look forward to seeing what they come up with next.