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Michele MASCITTI (1664-1760)
Sonate a violino solo e basso Opera ottava
Sonata in A, op. 8,1 [8:54]
Sonata in B flat, op. 8,2 [10:07]
Sonata in g minor, op. 8,5 [9:47]
Sonata in A, op. 8,6 [9:49]
Sonata in F, op. 8,7 [10:53]
Sonata in D, op. 8,8 [11:16]
Sonata in G, op. 8,10 [8:12]
Sonata in a minor, op. 8,11 [7:10]
Gian Andrea Guerra (violin), Nicola Brovelli (cello), Matteo Cicchitti (violone), Luigi Accardo (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Pietro Pasquini's music hall, Crema, Italy DDD
ARCANA A111 [76:11]

In the last two years or so about five or six new recordings of Bach's sonatas for harpsichord and violin have landed on my desk. I haven’t heard all of them, but it seems unlikely that they add something substantial – or anything at all – to what is already on the market. One would wish particular violinists to be a little more creative in their selecting of the music they are going to perform and record. Thankfully we have players like Gian Andrea Guerra, who decided to turn to the oeuvre of Michele Mascitti, a composer of Italian descent who made an impressive career in France.

Mascitti was born in Chieti, near Naples, and began his career in the royal chapel, where his uncle – who also was his first teacher in music – acted as violinist. After travelling through Europe he settled in Paris, where he came under the patronage of the Duke of Orléans. The Duke was an ardent lover of Italian music and Mascitti was just one of the Italian musicians he took under his wing. This connection with the Duke allowed Mascitti to play at the court in Paris. He made such an impression that in 1714 he was granted a King’s privilege to print for 15 years “collections of sonatas and other musical pieces, vocal as well as instrumental”. This privilege was twice extended, in 1731 and 1740, and, as a sign of the appreciation of Mascitti, he was given French citizenship in 1739. It seems he was also generally liked as a person, because of his friendly character and his generosity. Mascitti died in Paris, at a ripe old age, in 1760.

Very little of Mascitti’s oeuvre is available on disc. In 1704, shortly after he had settled in Paris, he published his Op. 1, a set of six solo sonatas and six trio sonatas. In 1738 his last publication came from the press, a collection of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo, with the opus number 9. His entire production comprises 100 solo sonatas and twelve trio sonatas; his Op. 7 includes four concerti grossi, in addition to eight solo sonatas. According to New Grove, Mascitti also left some harpsichord sonatas and trios for two viole da gamba and basso continuo. The latter would be a bow to the purely French style. In general Mascitti stuck to the Italian style. He took advantage of the growing popularity of Italian music in France after the turn of the century, and in particular after the death of Louis XIV in 1715. For most of his life Mascitti was in the service of the wealthy Crozat family, whose home was one of the artistic centres of Paris. The great appreciation of the Crozats for their composer came to the fore when Mascitti married at the age of 75; the entire Crozat family was present and signed the contract. He spent the last decades of his life in the Crozat family home, enjoying their financial support and the profits of his music, which found wide dissemination.

The Op. 8, printed in 1731, comprises twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo. They generally follow the model of the Italian sonata da camera, with its sequence of four movements in the order slow - fast - slow - fast. However, Mascitti treats this form with considerable freedom. The most ‘conventional’ sonata on this disc is the first: adagio, allegro, largo, allegro. The next two sonatas are in five movements. In both cases the fourth is an allegro, and here Mascitti adds another allegro, a minuetto and a gavotta respectively. The last three sonatas on the programme are also different: the Nos. 8 and 10 open with two allegros, and No. 11 ends with two allegros. The Sonata No. 7 also seems different, if one looks at the track-list. However, the character indications of the last two movements have been swapped.

The fact that these pieces are in the Italian style does not mean that there are no French influences. The most explicit mixture of the two styles is the third movement from the Sonata No. 6 in A. Here Mascitti merges the Italian pastorale with the French musette. It includes a drone and it is also a rare occasion in whicxh Mascitti makes use of double stopping. Just before the movement closes he includes a short adagio, and here we hear a motif typical of Neapolitan Christmas music. It also appears in, for instance, Alessandro Scarlatti’s well-known Christmas cantata O di Betlemme altera.

If anything, this disc proves that Mascitti was an outstanding composer. Having been educated as a violinist and having played as a ‘supernumerary violinist’ at the chapel of the viceroy of Naples, he had an intimate knowledge of the instrument and could explore its features in his compositions. He does so successfully here. Gian Andrea Guerra delivers a compelling performance. The tempi are well chosen, respecting, for instance, the difference between an adagio and an andante. Guerra has also a very good sense of the various rhythms; after all most movements are dances. And, not unimportantly, there is some nice dynamic shading, including a differentiation between good and bad notes. The basso continuo section substantially contributes to the impact of this recording.

This disc is an impressive monument to an unjustly neglected composer.

Johan van Veen

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