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Assassini, Assassinati
Ignazio ALBERTINI (1644-1685)
Sonata No. 1 in d minor [6:38]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Capriccio per sonar il violino a tre corde a modo di lira [3:22]
Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1581-1649)
Sonata VII [2:40]
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1624-1669)
Sonata IV in d, op. 4,4 'La Biancuccia' [8:11]
Theorbo improvisation [1:12]
Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682)
Sinfonia No. 2 [6:11]
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI
Sonata I in a minor, op. 3,1 'La Stella' [3:50]
Alessandro STRADELLA
Sinfonia No. 9 [5:45]
Sonata No. 3 in b minor [5:33]
Violin improvisation [1:51]
Alessandro STRADELLA
Sinfonia No. 5 [5:38]
Bellerofonte CASTALDI
Furiosa corrente [1:34]
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI
Sonata V in e minor, op. 3,5 'La Clemente' [8:11]
Repicco (Kinga Ujszászi (violin), Jadran Duncumb (theorbo))
rec. 2017, Chapel of the Centre Culturel J.C. Bonnet, Jujurieux, France DDD
AMBRONAY AMY308 [60:43]

This disc comes with a rather unusual title. "Assassini, Assassinati": murderers and those who are murdered. This can be explained by the biographies of the composers included in the programme. Alessandro Stradella and Ignazio Albertini were both murdered, the former because of one of his many love affairs, the latter for unknown reasons. Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli was a murderer: when he worked in Sicily he killed Giovannino Marquett, a castrato, because of a conflict over politics. The composer was forced to leave Sicily and moved to Spain. Bellerofonte Calstaldi was also involved in a killing: he took part in the murder of the man who had killed one of his brothers. The 17th century was also an age of musical turbulence: composers experimented with the technical capabilities of the various instruments, among them the violin, and with form and harmony. Whether there is any connection between the musical climate and the colourful life of some composers is an interesting subject for speculation. One could probably say that the fact that musical conventions of the past were in disarray created a climate, in which musicians also took liberties in their personal life.

Whether there is any substance in that, fact is that the two musicians of Repicco have put together a colourful programme for their debut disc. The best-known composer is Pandolfi Mealli, whose sonatas have almost cult status among today's players of the baroque violin, but about whose life we know very little. He was born in 1629 in Montepulciano in Tuscany. Not long after his birth the family moved to Venice, where his stepbrother sang as a castrato in San Marco. In the 1650s Pandolfo Mealli - the latter name he took from his stepfather - entered the service of the Princess de' Medici in Innsbruck. He gave up his job in 1660, and after that we meet him again in 1669. In that year a edition of instrumental pieces was printed in Rome, and here he is mentioned as violinist in the chapel of the cathedral of Messina in Sicily. His two best-known collections are the sonatas Opp. 3 and 4, both printed in Innsbruck in 1660, and each consisting of six sonatas. All of them bear a title, referring to a character in Mealli's environment, often a musician. La Stella refers to a monk of that name, who was also active as a musician, whereas La Clemente refers to a singer with the name of Clemente Antoni. The opera singer Giovanni Giacomo Banucucci gave his name to the Sonata No. 4 from the Op. 4. As the other pieces on this disc the sonatas of Pandolfi Mealli are rooted in the stylus phantasticus, which had emerged around 1600. There is no formal division in separate movements; these sonatas are sequences of sections of contrasting character and tempo. La Biancuccia, for instance, has ten different sections: adagio, allegro, adagio, largo, allegro, adagio, allegro, presto, adagio, adagio. Some of Pandolfo Mealli's sonatas are quite dramatic; this is one of them, and so is La Clemente. The performers feel like fish in water here: not only does Kinga Ujszászi explore the possibilities of her violin, for instance in colour and dynamics, but Jadran Duncumb comes up with strong impulses on his theorbo. In comparison La Stella is a more quiet piece: it comprises just three sections with two adagios of a rather lyrical character embracing an allegro.

Alessandro Stradella is one of the best-known Italian composers of the 17th century, but he is almost exclusively known for his vocal music. In comparison his instrumental output is seldom performed and recorded. The only disc devoted to his instrumental works was released by Brilliant Classics (review), and included a number of sinfonias for two violins and bc. They are not included in the work-list in New Grove, but the sinfonias played here, scored for violin and basso continuo, are: there are twelve of them, and three have been recorded by Repicco. The liner-notes say that they are "arranged here for duo forces", but I don't know what that means. Pieces for a solo instrument and basso continuo don't need to be arranged and there is no indication that the original scoring was for more than one violin. Again these sinfonias are sequences of contrasting sections. They are less brilliant than Pandolfi Mealli's sonatas - Stradella was not a violinist, after all, and was educated as a singer - but also have theatrical traits. That can hardly surprise, considering that he wrote many works for the stage.

Ignazio Albertini was one of several Italian composers, who went north to look for employment. He was at the service of the Prince-Bishop of Olomouc, Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn, and later the imperial court in Vienna. Leopold I granted him a subsidy for the costs of the printing of a collection of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo, which only appeared seven years after his (the composer’s) violent death. At that time he was at the service of the dowager Empress Eleonora. The sonatas have no regular pattern or fixed number of sections. That makes them typical specimens of an age of experimentation and compositional freedom. The programme begins with the Sonata No. 1, which opens with a prelude in improvisatory style. That is a feature of the sonata as a whole, and that comes perfectly off in the performance by Repicca. Albertini's sonatas are virtuosic, as one would expect from a composer, who was a professional violinist, and are full of dramatic contrasts. Ten of these sonatas have been recorded by Hélène Schmitt for Alpha (2002).

Biagio Marini was one of the main representatives of the stile nuovo in the first half of the 17th century. The Capriccio per sonar il violino a tre corde a modo di lira
(Capriccio for playing the violin on three strings after the fashion of the lyre) is taken from his Op. 8 of 1626, by far the most famous of his printed collections. One of the features of this piece is the use of triple stops, which was rather unusual in Italian violin music and was to appear more often in music of the German-Austrian violin school.

One of the most odd characters of his time was Bellerofonte Castaldi. He was very outspoken and he regularly was imprisoned for insulting people. The Estense library in Modena contains a manuscript with personal notes by Castaldi, and they also include some crude insults to personal enemies. It fits his character that he always remained independent as a musician and never took a job at the service of some prince. As a result he was heavily in debt at the time of his death. Despite his conflicts with authorities he was held in high esteem both as a musician and as a poet. He stood in contact with poets like Tassoni and Testi and composers like Gastoldi and Monteverdi. His small oeuvre comprises vocal pieces for one to three voices and basso continuo, as well as compositions for this own instrument, the theorbo. The two pieces recorded here are taken from the collection of theorbo pieces of 1622. This edition "is marked by formal instability - one of the paradigms of the Baroque aesthetic - and by constant inventiveness and a taste for the odd and bizarre; hence the very title of the piece (Furiosa corrente)", Jean-François Lattarico states in his liner-notes.

It fits this programme of musical liberties and unconventional compositions that both artists add an improvisation. These are nice additions to a recording, which is quite fascinating. The three sonatas by Pandolfi Mealli are rather well-known, but the other items are not. Kinga Ujszászi and Jadran Duncumb do them full justice. Their very first disc is a winner in every respect. Their technical prowess is impressive and they also have a very good sense of the character of the repertoire. It is really necessary to add some of your own to bring this music to real life. A certain amount of improvisation is a sine qua non, and that is exactly what we get here.

This is an ensemble to keep an eye on. I look forward to their next project.
Johan van Veen



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