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Pietro DEGLI ANTONI (1639-1720)
12 Sonatas op. 4 for Violin and Basso Continuo
Il Coro d'Arcadia (Alessandro Ciccolini (violin), Alberto Guerrero (cello), Franco Pavan (theorbo), Francesco Baroni (harpsichord, organ), Vincenzo Allevato (organ))
rec. 17-20 October 2014, Aula Magna of Collegio Ghislieri, Pavia, Italy DDD

Pietro Degli Antoni is one of those composers many music lovers will never have heard of but who was quite famous in his own time. He was born and died in Bologna where he worked all his life. In the 17th century Bologna was an important centre of music in which various developments were initiated which had a lasting influence on the course of music history. One of these was the birth of the cello as a solo instrument, with Domenico Gabrielli, Giuseppe Maria Jacchini and Giovanni Battista Vitali as its main exponents. It was especially under Maurizio Cazzati in his capacity as maestro di cappella that the ensemble of the basilica of San Petronio was extended and the trumpet took its place in instrumental music. Giuseppe Torelli was one of the main composers who contributed to this genre. He also stood at the cradle of the concerto grosso and the violin concerto. Moreover, Bologna took a central place in the development of the trio sonata. Last but not least here one of the most famous institutions was founded, the Accademia Filarmonica whose purpose was "to bring together professional musicians 'so well united that they always play together, creating fine sound', such that the ensemble immediately became a sort of corporation aimed at preserving the prestige and professionalism of its members" (booklet). Degli Antoni was one of its founding members and acted as its principal musician in six years between 1676 and 1718. Among its members were such prestigious composers as Corelli, Torelli, Giovanni Bononcini, Colonna and Vitali, and in later years the likes of Jommelli, Grétry, Mozart, Liszt, Verdi and Ravel. It was not the only institution of this kind in Italy but it is one of only a few which still exist today.

Degli Antoni contributed to most genres in vogue in his time, including oratorio and opera; apart from one oratorio only the librettos are extant. Three collections of sacred music and one set of cantate da camera were printed, all in Bologna. Here also five collections of instrumental music were published, the first in 1670, the last in 1712. This and the years of Degli Antoni's birth and death show that his life and activities span a period in which much changed in the musical landscape. For this review the developments in the form of the sonata are particularly interesting. The last sonatas from his pen were published in 1686 which means that they were written at about the same time as Corelli published his first two sets of trio sonatas (1681 and 1685 respectively).

The 12 sonatas op. 4 came from the press in 1676 and this explains why they are very different from Corelli's. They are somewhere between the sonatas by the first representatives of the stile nuovo that emerged around 1600, such as Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana, and those of Corelli. They still bear the traces of the stylus phantasticus, especially as they consist of a sequence of mostly rather short sections of contrasting character and tempo. The Sonata No. 2 is a good example. It opens with an adagio of 41 seconds, which is followed by a presto of 19 seconds, another adagio of 50 seconds and a presto of 27. Then we get the longest movement (03:30) with the indication aria grave. The sonata closes with a posato (steady) and a prestissimo, lasting 43 and 23 seconds respectively. However, it seems that there is more of a formal division into movements than in the sonatas by earlier generations. This explains why there are short pauses between the movements which are allocated to different tracks. A further reference to the instrumental music of the early 17th century is the use of the echo technique in the adagio from the Sonata No. 10.

The number of movements varies from four to seven; the order of movements doesn't follow a clear pattern and differs from one sonata to the other. The Sonata No. 1, for instance, has four movements: grave, aria posata, allegro (the only fast movement) and adagio, the Sonata No. 3 consists of allegro, aria grave, grave and allegro. The use of the word aria suggests a connection to vocal music and that is what is a feature of these sonatas, in particular the slow movements. The author of the liner-notes even states that their vocal character justifies defining these sonatas as "instrumental cantatas". An example of a recitativic movement is the adagio from the Sonata No. 11.

This set of sonatas documents the development of this form in the period between the early baroque sonatas and those by Corelli. That makes this disc very interesting from a historical point of view. This stage in music history is rather overlooked and should receive more attention. More importantly, these sonatas are musically compelling, not the least because of their vocal character. That comes off very well here. Alessandro Ciccolini delivers outstanding interpretations, with good contrasts between the various movements and a vocal style of playing, which is expressed in phrasing, articulation and a differentiated use of dynamics. He gets good support from his colleagues on cello, theorbo, harpsichord and organ.

This is an important release, both from a historical and a musical angle.

Johan van Veen



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