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Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692)
Varie Sonate Op. 11, 1684
Italico Splendore
rec. 2017, Chiesa di San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo (RA), Italy
TACTUS TC632206 [60:50]

The present disc 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. The present disc is devoted to his Op. 11 of 1684, published under the title of Varie sonate alla francese, e all'itagliana. This edition is a collection of dances, despite its title. A number of pieces bear the title of capriccio, balletto or introdutione. Among the dances we find giga, gavotta, borea and corrente. All of them are followed by a number, such as balletto secondo and balletto terzo. The performers have ordered them according to key into suites. Unfortunately the keys are not mentioned in the track-list.

One aspect is particularly interesting. As the title indicates, we have pieces in the French and in the Italian style. The addition alla francese was quite common in the 16th century, but those pieces were not specifically recognizable as French. That is different here. The Suite No. 2, for instance, opens with a balletto in stile francese, and is written in the dotted rhythm which is a feature of French overtures, as Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote them as the introduction to his operas. Micol Vitali, in his liner-notes, marks these pieces as examples of French influence in Italy. It is also notable that these pieces are in five parts, with two middle voices that can be omitted. This is another token of French influence: Lully's instrumental music was always in five parts, and the middle voices were given to three different instruments: haute-contre de violon, taille de violon and quinte de violon. Here the middle voices are played on viola contralto and viola tenore.

Recently I reviewed another collection of dances, the Sonate da camera Op. 14. Although I liked the playing of Italico Splendore, I regretted the participation of wind and percussion. In his early sets of dances, Vitali made a distinction between dances per ballare and dances da camera. Considering the title of sonate, it seems likely that the Op. 11 and Op. 14 both include dances da camera. I am happy that this time, the performers decided to confine themselves to strings.

As a result I have enjoyed this disc even more than the Op. 14. The dance rhythms come off very well, thanks to an excellent articulation and a clear dynamic differentiation between 'good' and 'bad' notes. These performances show that no percussion is needed to make the listener feel the dance rhythms. The slower movements which are no dances, such as in the Sinfonia per camera which opens this disc, are performed just as well.

Among the discs in this project that I have heard, this is definitely one of the best.

Johan van Veen

Sinfonia per camera 6 [6:33]
[Suite No. 1] [5:24]
[Suite No. 2] [5:20]
[Suite No. 3] [4:24]
[Suite No. 4] [5:43]
[Suite No. 5] [5:34]
[Suite No. 6] [6:03]
[Suite No. 7] [3:53]
[Suite No. 8] 02:43]
[Suite No. 9] [5:17]
[Suite No. 10] [9:08]

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