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Dario CASTELLO (? - 1644)
Sonate Concertate 1629
Sonata XIV 4. 2 soprani e 2 tromboni [06:24]
Sonata III 2 soprani [05:23]
Sonata XV 4. per Stromenti d'Arco [05:03]
Sonata X 3. 2 soprani e fagotto [05:25]
Sonata V 2. soprano e trombone [05:19]
Sonata XVI 4. Per Stromenti d'Arco [06:12]
Sonata XIII 4. 2 soprani e 2 tromboni [07:52]
Sonata VII 2. soprani e fagotto [06:25]
Sonata XII 3. 2 soprani e trombone [07:50]
Sonata IV 2 soprani [06:07]
Sonata IX 3. 2 soprani e fagotto [07:20]
Sonata XI 3. 2 soprani e trombone [05:08]
Sonata XVII in ecco. Per 2 cornetti e 2 violini [07:08]
Musica Fiata/Roland Wilson
rec. 26-29 October 2013, Dorfkirche Bochum-Stiepel, Bochum, Germany DDD
CPO 555 011-2 [81:36]

The early decades of the 17th century were a time of change in musical taste. One of its features was the emergence of instrumental virtuosity and the composition of instrumental music which was more or less independent of the vocal models which dominated instrumental music of the late 16th century. Venice played a major role in this development and one of its representatives was Dario Castello.

He was the director of the wind ensemble of San Marco, but that is as much as we know about him. In his liner-notes to the present recording, Roland Wilson writes that Castello's name is not to be found in the lists of payments to musicians at San Marco. However, there were two players with the surname Castello: the trombonist Francesco Castello and Giovanni Battista Castello, who first acted as violinist and then as bassoonist. He assumes that the latter could be the same as Dario, who may have published his music under another Christian name because Giovanni Battista was a very common name at the time. If Dario is indeed the same as that Giovanni Battista this could explain the notably virtuosic bassoon parts in his sonatas.

These are included in the only two collections of his music which have been preserved. They were printed in 1621 and 1629 respectively, both in Venice, under the title of Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti and comprise 29 sonatas in total. They bear witness to two features of instrumental writing in northern Italy in the early 17th century. Firstly, the instrumental parts are quite virtuosic and certainly not suited to amateurs. This is music for professional players of the kind who worked at San Marco and in the chapels of aristocrats. Secondly, they consist of sequences of passages of a strongly contrasting character. This is one of the hallmarks of the stylus phantasticus which would have such a lasting influence across Europe, for instance in the organ works by composers from northern Germany.

The title of these collections reveals the nature of the new instrumental music. The word concertate refers to the independence of the instrumental parts, which comes especially to the fore in the solo episodes. The word moderno indicates that Castello wanted to move away from the tradition which was embodied in the most common form of instrumental music of the stile antico, the canzona which was derived from vocal models (chanson) and was dominated by counterpoint. The mention of organ and spinet - the latter word can be interpreted as a stringed keyboard instrument in general - refers to the basso continuo which was the foundation of every piece for an instrumental ensemble. Lastly, the use of the words 'diverse instruments' shows that the choice of instruments was - at least partly - left to the interpreters.

It is interesting that the second set of 1629 includes two sonatas without solo episodes which mark the outer ends of the stylistic evolution of the time. The Sonata XV 4 is an ensemble sonata specifically scored for strings. It is close to the canzonas which were written in the 16th century: all the instrumental parts are equally important. It has the character of a vocal work adapted for instrumental ensemble. The Sonata XVI 4 has the same scoring but is very different. It is a kind of battaglia, a genre which was to become quite popular during the 17th century. Wilson refers here to the stile concitato which we find in Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. The difference between these sonatas is underlined here by the scoring of the basso continuo: cello and organ vs cello, chitarrone, harp and harpsichord.

In the various sonatas we meet the features of instrumental music of the time. The programme opens with the Sonata XIV 4 which is scored for 2 soprani e 2 tromboni. The term soprani leaves the choice of instruments to the interpreters but Wilson states that in Venice at that time soprano can only have meant cornetto or violin. Here the two treble parts are played by violins. This sonata reminds us of the polychoral tradition in Venice: for the most part it is a dialogue between the two pairs of instruments. The same kind of dialogue returns in the Sonata XIII 4 where the two pairs are cornettos and sackbuts respectively.

The Sonata III 2 soprani is an example of a sonata in which the two instruments - here cornetto and violin - often play in parallel motion, either of the instruments making a detour now and then with short ornamental passages. Both also have a longer solo episode to play. Here and in other sonatas - for instance the Sonata VII 2, here played with cornetto and dulcian - these solos are mostly identical, only slightly adapted to the features of the respective instruments. This aspect shows that imitation between the various instruments is an important aspect of these sonatas. Motifs in one instrument are often repeated in the other. Examples are the Sonata V 2, here played by cornett and sackbut, and the Sonata XI 3, performed by two violins and sackbut.

A specific form of imitation is the echo, a popular compositional device of the time, frequently used in vocal music - for instance as statement and reply - and in organ music. In the Sonata X 3 the last motif in a phrase is sometimes repeated piano. The most demonstrative application of the echo technique is the Sonata XVII in ecco which closes the programme. It is expressis verbis scored for two cornetts and two violins. The main roles are played by the first of each pair. Both have solo episodes to play in which some motifs are repeated by the second cornett and violin respectively. These are recorded from a distance which gives the impression of a real echo. The question remains whether that was intended by the composer. This is hard to decide since we do not know, as of now, what kind of events or venues the music was written for. In a small room it would be almost impossible to place the instruments so far away from each other, but instrumental canzonas and sonatas were also used in the liturgy. In that case the musicians may have exploited the acoustical features of the church.

Castello's music is pretty well known and over the years I have heard many of these sonatas in good performances. However, it is rare to hear such outstanding interpretations as we get on this disc. A whole disc devoted to one composer, with pieces which are stylistically not very different, may seem a bit too much of a good thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. This music is very exciting and so is the playing of Musica Fiata. The technical prowess of these players is impressive and their interpretational skills result in breathtaking performances. Some sonatas include episodes in which an instrument weaves a web over a pedal point. The players manage to give the impression that they are improvising. Imagination is an important element in the performance of this kind of repertoire and there is no lack of that here.

This is one of the best discs I have heard recently.

Johan van Veen



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