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Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692)
Partite - Sonate op. 13, 1689
Italico Splendore
rec. 2017, Chiesa di San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo (RA), Italy
TACTUS TC632204 [60:03]

The disc under review here is part of a series of recordings of Vitali's oeuvre, which on its turn are part of a larger project, aiming at exploring the large library of the Este family. Throughout many centuries the Estes were among the main rulers in Italy and important patrons of the arts. In 1674 Vitali entered the service of Francesco II (1660-1694) as one of the vicemaestri di cappella, a position he held until his death. Vitali was born in Bologna, and was educated as a cellist. He was probably a pupil of Maurizio Cazzati, maestro di cappella of San Petronio.

The largest part of Vitali's oeuvre consists of instrumental music. Two collections comprise trio sonatas, a relatively new genre in his time. No fewer than five of the extant twelve printed editions of his instrumental music include dances, starting with his Op. 1 of 1666. Previously, Italico Splendore recorded some specimens of these two genres. The present disc is a bit different. Two of the collections included here have no opus number and were not published; they probably date from around 1680. The two sonatas are taken from the Op. 13, which is a more or less theoretical work about the art of counterpoint.

The programme opens with Partite diverse sopra diverse Sonate per il Violone. It is interesting for several reasons. First, the solo instrument is a string bass, called a violone. That is not the same instrument as the 16' violone used in 18th-century music. In 17th-century Italy, the violone was more or less comparable with the cello. At the end of the century, the two terms are used more or less indiscriminately, and for modern performers it is not always clear exactly which instrument is meant. These ten pieces also seem to be the only ones that can give us some idea of Vitali's own skills, given that he was educated as a cellist.

Second, nearly all the pieces are based on bass patterns (bassi ostinati), such as Ruggiero, Bergamasca and Ciacona. It is notable that the collection comes with just the violone line. That does not indicate that they were meant as pieces for a solo instrument without accompaniment. "[Undoubtedly] - also because all musicians of that period were quite familiar with the harmonic progressions of the seventeenth-century dances on basso ostinato - these parts were accompanied by the various instruments entrusted with the basso continuo", Micol Vitali states in the booklet.

Third, most pieces refer to a letter, either B or E. This refers to the alfabeto della chitarra alla spagnola, a fingering notation system for chords. In this system a single letter is assigned to each guitar chord, for instance the A indicating G major. The 5-course guitarra spagnuola was introduced in Italy in the late 16th century, and had become very popular since. This collection bears witness to its use in the late 17th century.

As in other collections by Vitali, the word sonata should not be taken too literally. It does not tell us anything about its form; Vitali seems to use it for any instrumental work, including dances. The word partite was used frequently in the 16th and early 17th centuries for a series of variations on a subject, and that is exactly what these pieces are about: variations over a basso ostinato.

The second set of Partite, this time for violin, has the same character. Again, the titles include references to the alfabeto notational system, and most of the pieces are based on bass patterns. Once again, only the solo part is given. In this set two pieces are notable. The Capritio di Tromba includes figures which imitate the trumpet. And the last piece is called Barabano. It is another name for a famous dance song, generally known as La Mantovana, whose text begins with the words "Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi da questo cielo". It has been used by several composers from the baroque period, such as Biagio Marini (1594-1663), but also much later, most famously by Smetana in Vltava.

In between these two sets of partite, Splendore Italico plays two sonatas for violin and basso continuo from the Op. 13 of 1689, which bears the title Artificii Musicali. As was so often the case in the 17th century, this didactic work included a number of examples, illustrating what was pointed out in the theoretical part. Micol Vitali compares this work with Bach's Art of Fugue. Each of the two sonatas consists of five sections of contrasting tempi.

They round off a most interesting sequence of this ongoing cycle of Vitali recordings. We have here the composer at his most unconventional, and this disc brings us probably closer to his identity as a musician and composer than previous volumes. I have nothing but praise for the performances, which really go to the heart of the matter. The idiosyncracies are fully explored, and the accompaniments are admirable, especially given that they are the products of the invention of the performers. The playing of all participants is excellent.

Johan van Veen

[Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il violone]
Toccata [0:52]
Ruggiero per la lettera B [2:49]
Bergamasca per la lettera B [3:18]
Chiacona per la lettera B [4:33]
Capritio sopra otto figure [4:00]
Capritio sopra il cinque tempi [1:34]
Passa Galli per la lettera E [4:24]
Capritio [0:54]
Passo, e mezzo per la lettera B [4:34]
Passo, e mezzo per b quadro sopra la lettera B [3:16]
[Artificii Musicali, Op. 13]
Prima Suonata Violino solo [5:22]
Seconda Suonata Violino solo [5:08]
[Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il violino]
Toccata [1:06]
Bergamasca per la lettera B [1:47]
Ruggiero per la lettera B [1:24]
Capritio sopra il cinque passi [ 01:15]
Capritio di Tromba [2:09]
Furlana [2:57]
Passo, e mezzo per la lettera E [5:51]
Barabano per la lettera E [2:27]

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