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Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690)
Sonate & Balletti
rec. Chiesa di San Bernardino, Molfetta, Italy; Eglise Notre-Dame de Centeilles, Siran, France; June 2014, September 2015
RICERCAR RIC356 [77:30]

Two years ago I was bowled over by a recording of works by Giovanni and Tomaso Vitali from Clematis, a Belgian period instrument ensemble, led by violinist Stéphanie de Failly (review). When this recording appeared on the distribution list, I snapped it up. If I say it isn’t quite the revelation that its predecessor was, that shouldn’t be read as criticism, more a reflection of music that is less immediately attractive.

Giovanni Legrenzi was born near Bergamo, then part of the Venetian republic, and eventually settled in the capital, becoming one of the more important composers there, active in most genres. There are three recordings devoted to his music reviewed on this site: trio sonatas (CPO - review), a mass and vespers (review) and an oratorio (review). In each case, the reviewer has been complimentary about the quality of the music.

I’m perhaps a little less enthusiastic, finding Legrenzi’s music a little dense in places, missing some of the delightful melodies and rhythms that I so loved in the Vitali. There are, however, some very fine works on this recording: my particular favourites are La Squarzona and La Frangipana. The works are chosen from five different collections (opp. 2, 4, 8, 10, 16) with most of the sonatas given names that identify them with either a town, for example, La Cremona, or a person, most likely the dedicatee. The derivation of the names of my two favourites is not clear.

I returned to the CPO trio-sonata disc, mentioned above, which I bought some time ago, and remember being somewhat underwhelmed at the time. I found that a number of the works were on both recordings, including La Frangipana, so was able to compare Clematis with Parnassus Musici. Within a few bars, I was able to hear a substantial difference in performances. The former exudes vitality in all their performances that I have heard, and puts the CPO recording in the shade. Frangipana on that recording was no more than mildly enjoyable, whereas Clematis breathe life into it, making it sing … and dance. As I returned to this new recording and listened again, some of the qualities in Legrenzi’s music appreciated during his lifetime, became more apparent, and I suspect that it will continue to grow on me.

The booklet notes are quite exceptional; running to ten pages, they are readable, informative and well-researched. They explain the reason for the two recording venues: the Italian church used for the grander pieces requiring an organ and giving a quite resonant acoustic; the French one, a smaller space, for a more chamber-like effect. The different sound from the two venues is certainly apparent, and in each case, the quality is excellent.

David Barker

Sonata prima a 4 violini (Op.10) [5:28]
Sonata terza a 2 violoni (Op.10) [5:33]
Balletto primo [Alemanda] (Op.16) [2:03]
Corrente terza (Op.16) [1:50]
Sonata [da chiesa] La Pezzoli a 3 (Op.4) [4:01]
La Foscari a 2 (Op.2) [2:50]
Sonata da Camera La Forni a 3 (Op.4) [2:57]
La Marinona a 5 (Op.8) [3:11]
La Frangipana a due violini (Op.2) [3:51]
La Basadonna a 6 (Op.8) [3:08]
La Cremona a 5 (Op.8) [4:03]
L’Obizza a 2 (Op.8) [3:57]
Sonata seconda a 4 (Op.10) [4:37]
Balletto quarto (Op.4) [1:19]
Corrente terza (Op.4) [1:29]
Sarabanda prima (Op.4) [2:03]
Alemanda terza La Piloni (Op.4) [1:09]
La Zabarella a 3 (Op.2) [3:09]
La Squarzona a 5 (Op.8) [3:18]
La Cornara a due violini (Op.2) [2:55]
Balletto secondo (Op.16) [0:57]
Corrente nona [Ciaconna] (Op.16) [2:46]
Sonata quarta a 2 (Op.10) [4:52]
Sonata sesta a quattro viole da gamba o come piace (Op.10) [5:58]



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