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Marianna Motroni Andreozzi BOTTINI (1802-1858)
Concertone per Pianoforte a piena orchestra [16:36]
Concerto di Clarino in Beffà [18:36] Alessandro ROLLA (1757-1841)
Concerto per Viola e Orchestra BI 552 [Revisione orchestrale di Claudio Valenti] [28:57]
Gianni Bicchierini (piano) Remo Pieri (clarinet) Tommaso Valenti (viola) Orchestra dell’ Istituto Musicale «Luigi Boccherini» di Lucca/Gianpaolo Mazzoli
rec. 2016, Auditorium del Suffragio Istituto Musicale «Luigi Boccherini», Lucca, Italy TACTUS TC800008 [64:42]
The fact that Marianna Motroni Andreozzi Bottini and Alessandro Rolla prove ideal stablemates on this CD is largely because they both belong to that group of basically-forgotten early-nineteenth-century composers who were successful in various genres. To varying degrees, their music tended to capture the historical moment, with its new-born sense of patriotism on the one hand, and development of bel canto on the other. Bottini’s talent is evidenced by her intense compositional activity in the years between 1815, when she was a mere 13 years of age, and 1823, when she married.
Bottini, who also taught the harp, was born in Lucca, Tuscany – the subsequent birthplace of another far-better-known composer, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). Bottini studied counterpoint with Domenico Quilici and was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna in 1820 as an ‘honorary master composer’. In 1823 she married the Marquis Lorenzo Bottini, a prominent political figure, and was one of the few women whose music was played for the traditional Luccan festival in honour of St Cecilia. Her output includes two symphonies, the piano, and clarinet concertos on this CD, chamber music, quite a substantial amount of religious vocal music, and the operetta Elena e Gerado (1822).
The Concertone per Pianoforte a piena orchestra, which opens the CD, soon attests to her skill in writing for the orchestra. The title itself might seem a little confusing, given that, in the sleeve notes it is also referred to as Concertone a piena orchestra e pianoforte, while in some general third-party lists of her output it is referred to as her Piano Concerto. The clue is in the word Concertone, which literally means ‘large concerto’, although here it’s not referring to the work’s overall length – its two movements lasting a mere 16 minutes or so in total – but to the fact that there is effectively more than one soloist. Of course, this is nothing new – quite the opposite, in fact, since the Baroque Concerto Grosso, with its group of soloists, was now almost a thing of the past, and being replaced by the solo concerto, where just one instrument is pitted against the might of the orchestra. Either way, it’s simply a work for more than one soloist, accompanied by full (piena) orchestra. There’s a bright opening with everyone playing in octaves, before the soloists introduce themselves. In this respect, the construction is similar to that of the aforementioned concerto grosso, where the rationale is the contrast between full orchestra (ripieno) and soloists (concertino), so the opening scalic ritornello literally returns in different keys between each solo episode. Given that the work originated in 1824 – Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, and his Emperor Piano Concerto had appeared some 20 and 15 years earlier respectively - it is hardly adding much to either genre, whether considered as a piano concerto, or mixed concerto/concerto grosso. While a solo clarinet can clearly be discerned in the first movement, it’s the flute that shares the limelight with the piano, although, rather bizarrely, there is no mention in the notes of a flute, or indeed a flute-player, the clarinettist presumably getting an official mention because of the Clarinet Concerto to come. The first section of the ensuing (Adagio, Allegro) provides the work’s slow movement, where the clarinet has all the limelight at the start, with a typically Italianate, bel canto melody. A short cadenza from the piano then leads into what constitutes the finale, a dainty little theme followed by a number of variations, again where the flute shares much of the proceedings with the clarinet. A change to a brisk three-in-a-bar finally adds some extra sparkle as the Concertone reaches its close.
The next work on the CD is Bottini’s Concerto di Clarino in Beffà, or, in other words, her Clarinet Concerto in B flat. In the sleeve notes, the clarinet appears to be trans-gender, as it appears with the Italian feminine ending as ‘Clarina’, rather than the masculine, which ends in ‘o’. There is such an instrument as the ‘heckel-clarina’, also known as clarina or patent clarina – but a very rare woodwind instrument, invented and manufactured by Wilhelm Heckel in Germany. However, since he didn’t receive the patent until 1889, it’s more likely just a typo. Unfortunately, though, Signore Pieri is listed as playing the ‘clarinetto’ on the CD jewel-case, which just adds to the apparent confusion all round. The opening Allegro holds no surprises, and is once more clearly Italianate in feeling, with the shadow of Rossini (1792-1868) never far away. On this occasion, the slow movement stands as a separate Adagio, a cantabile melody of extended phrases, supported by a fairly uneventful orchestral accompanied. The finale, as with the previous work, is another theme and variations on an equally perky little melody. Bottini makes use of various other orchestral instruments, especially the horn, in solo dialogues with the clarinet. This time there is a suitably plaintive slow variation in the minor, which essentially forms a kind of centrepiece, before the closing section, where virtuosity is very much to the fore.
The rest of the CD is devoted to Alessandro Rolla’s Viola Concerto, composed between 1800 and 1840. Rolla was born in Pavia, Italy, and, as well as being a composer, he was a violin and viola virtuoso, conductor and teacher. In the latter capacity, his fame rests mainly on his being the teacher of Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), and, indeed some of the technical innovations that Paganini later made extensive use of – left-hand pizzicato, chromatic ascending and descending scales, very high positions, both on violin and viola – were first introduced by Rolla. Unfortunately, all that actually remains of the Viola Concerto is the solo part itself, but the orchestral reconstruction on the CD was undertaken by violist and composer, Claudio Valenti and it still works well in practice. The opening Allegro begins with a quite substantial orchestral exposition of almost three minutes, before the soloist enters, making significant use of double-stoppings and one or two technical procedures we’ll hear later in the works of Paganini. Apart from this, it’s an attractive enough movement much in the classical mode of Mozart. The slow movement (Romance) is cast as a rondo where there are episodes respectively in a related key, and in a minor. The finale is entitled ‘Rondo alla Polonese’ – a dance of Polish origin in triple metre, which is easy on the ear. A slight quickening of pace helps maintains the listener’s interest during the last few minutes, as does a dramatic foray into the minor key, before the major key returns, and the movement reaches its close - albeit a tad abruptly.
The recording is clear and vivid, and the solo instruments are positioned well forward on the sound stage. The orchestra’s contribution is average, but I admit to some reservations as far as the wind and string soloists are concerned, largely in terms of intonation, total accuracy within the part and the ensemble overall, given that this is a studio recording, not live. Having said that, pianist Gianni Bicchierini keeps out of trouble, and despatches his role with some panache. The sleeve notes – a collaboration between two contributors, both in terms of the articles themselves, and their respective translation from Italian to English – are not always idiomatic, and along with the other textual discrepancies mentioned above, would really benefit from greater attention to detail at the proof-reading stage.
Tactus has a burgeoning catalogue of mainly Italian works by names largely unfamiliar to the non-Italian listener. As such, this present CD slots comfortably into this, as well as appealing to those with a very specific interest in the repertoire. Perhaps if the production, in terms of presentation and performance, had been more meticulous throughout, then the CD might have a greater appeal overall. It’s tuneful enough and makes no demands on the listener, but, with such a raft of similar new ‘discoveries’ appearing virtually every day, it’s a tough old market to survive in.