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Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768)
Sonate a Violino solo e basso
Sonata Op 1 no. 1 in G minor [16.23]
Sonata Op 2 no. 8 in E minor [10.57]
Sonata Op 1 no. 6 in E minor [17.05]
Sonata Op 2 no. 12 in D minor [14.44]
Enrico Gatti (violin)
Guido Morini (harpsichord)
Alain Gervreau (cello)
rec. 1994, Church of Haubloville, France
ARCANA A456 [60.07]

This disc originally appeared on the Arcana label in the mid-90’s but it is an excellent idea to have re-released it this month (October 2018), as at the time of listening and writing this review, we should be celebrating the life of Veracini who died on 30th October, 1768 - that is, 250 years ago.

I must begin by saying something about the booklet’s extraordinary essay. It is entitled ‘An Italian Spring Evening’ with the subtitle ‘A dialogue in jest’. Enrico Gatti the star virtuoso violinist, writes a colloquy in the style found in perhaps, Morley’s ‘Plaine and Easy Introduction to Music’ or in ‘Orchesography’ in the form, more or less, of a teacher and pupil dialogue. He explains that the characters involved, Stanislao and Pippo, represent the nicknames that he and his brother used for each other when they were children.

For much of its eight, tightly packed pages the conversation is more philosophical than musical, even moving towards food etiquette and cuisine in baroque Italy. It takes a while before we get to a discussion of Veracini and of the Opus 1 and Opus 2 Sonatas. If you want information about his life or even musical details about these works, then we find out little, but for the record we can say that he was born and died in Florence and was a famous and sought-after soloist, who was known to have worked in England alongside Geminiani and was something of a rival to Handel and that he also worked in Germany - indeed his Op 2 Sonatas called ‘Sonata Accademiche’ were published there when he was a very well-paid court violinist in Dresden.

The Violin Sonatas are his best-known works but he wrote several operas and oratorios and Vivaldi-like Concerti. There is also a set of Overtures and more Sonatas Opus 3. His music is easily obtainable on CD but when Gatti wrote his notes very little seems to have been available.

I was able to borrow a complete reproduction of the original engraved score of Veracini’s Opus 2 Sonatas (King’s Music- Clifford Bartlett). The first thing that struck me even noting the works recorded here, are the titles of the movements. Op1 no1 has a ‘Paesana’ (possibly connected with the small town in north-west Italy) marked ‘Allegro’. Two of the sonatas have ‘Giga’; Opus 1 no 6 begins with a ‘Fantasia’ in the French style. Op 2 no 12 has a ‘Capriccio Cromatico’. The 2nd Sonata (not recorded here) opens with Polonaise etc. The whole publication is in fact dedicated to his patron: “Alla Sacra Real Maesta Augustus III King of Pollonia.”

Another feature is Veracini’s regular use of the word ‘Ritornello’. In these passages the bass is clearly a separate, contrapuntal element and has figures beneath, as in the case of the Op 2 no 8 in which there is also the instruction ‘cantabile’ which features in the contrasting sections. Here the bass is simply functional and no figures are given, the harpsichord is then at liberty to drop out, as no harmonies are required. The solo violin is consequently free to ornament the more lyrical line at will, which Gatti does beautifully and not over-extravagantly. Another of Veracini’s notational fingerprints is the letter ‘S’ for solo in a big capital in the bass line, indicating that the cello (or gamba) is to play alone without the keyboard; again, in these sections no figuring is offered. Veracini is very specific about dynamics, sometimes creating the echo effect also found in Corelli and earlier composers. He is also careful in the notation of articulations: Opus 2 no 8 is specifically marked ‘Largo e Staccato’, with bowing also marked in the score. Gatti adds his own cadenzas where a simple pause is indicated.

Gatti plays a 1789 Violin made by Storioni in Cremona; the harpsichord is a copy after Fleischer of Hamburg 1720 and the cello is a copy of a Venetian example by Goffriller (1698). The sound is tightly woven, sometimes a little harsh but very much in keeping with Veracini’s fiery style. It appears to fit his character as a somewhat difficult and quick-tempered man who obviously riled his colleagues. It is said that Pisendel pushed him off a balcony during an argument, resulting in Veracini thereafter walking with a limp. Nor was he enamoured of Geminiani’s fugal writing, when the latter did not adhere strictly to forcing his fugal subjects to the normal rigour but allowed them to metamorphose and move away from their original shape, and he told Geminiani what he thought of that.

That roughness of character does come through in these sonatas, which are never really elegant but mostly strong, forceful, full of direction and clear in form and harmonic progress.

A gamba-playing friend of mine was rather sniffy about the Opus 1, which are a little more straightforward, when we tried them out; I feel that was a little unfair, as the melodies do have a really original turn and the music never outstays its welcome.

Opus 2 no 12 is quite a highlight, with all four movements being cleverly connected by a chromatic, falling ground bass in the first three movements, the last being called a ‘Ciaccona’ having a series of repeated 8 bar bass patterns in the tonic major which eventually make way for the same chromatic bass of the other movements.

The performances are quite brilliant; Gatti exhibits virtuosity, musicality and panache - a fascinating release.

Gary Higginson


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