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Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692)
Sonate da camera Op. 14
Suite No. 1 [11:09]
Suite No. 2 [11:57]
Suite No. 3 [10:16]
Suite No. 4 [10:16]
Suite No. 5 [08:54]
Suite No. 6 [11:47]
Italico Splendore
rec. 2016, Auditorium San Rocco, Carpi (MO), Italy
TACTUS TC632202 [64:43]

The name of Giovanni Battista Vitali may ring a bell with some music lovers, but he is probably little more than just a name. His music is seldom performed and recorded. 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.

Vitali's oeuvre includes some secular cantatas and oratorios, but the largest part consists of instrumental music. His Op. 1 came from the press in 1666, and his latest publication, the Op. 14, was printed in 1692. At that time Vitali had already died, and this collection was edited by his son Tomaso Antonio. Although it bears the title of Sonate da camera, it is in fact a collection of dances, such as borea, gavotta, ballo and minuet. The latter is notable as Vitali was the first Italian composer to write menuets.

In this recording, the 44 dances are grouped into six suites. The reason is that dances in the same key show thematic similarity. This indicates that performances as suites may well be in line with the composer's intentions. Vitali had written dances before. In fact, five of the twelve extant collections of music which were printed, include dances, beginning with his Op. 1. Interestingly, in the early sets of dances, Vitali made a distinction between dances per ballare and dances da camera. This may well have consequences for the way they are performed. And that brings us to the recording of the Op. 14 by Italico Splendore.

Recently, I reviewed the ensemble's recording of the Suonate a due violini Op. 2 (1667) (review). I liked the music as well as the way it was performed. That is not any different here, but I have some reservations with regard to the line-up and the approach of the Op. 14 sonatas. "Researches carried out in Modena led us to suppose that the composition for two violins and basso continuo may have had the function of collecting the themes by means of a sort of 'shorthand': in folk music that is still performed today but has been handed down from ancient times, there are many cases of dances for violin and harmonic accompaniment that are subsequently 'blown up' and performed by entire folk orchestras. Italico Splendore has chosen to enhance this composition by using its modules as drafts to be enriched with various timbres through the introduction of wind and percussion instruments, and by playing with the agogics and dynamics, and the refrains and reprises (...)", Micol Vitali writes in his liner-notes. I find this decision questionable.

The addition of wind and percussion seems a plausible option if these pieces were used as actual dance music, as dances per ballare. In that case, a precise rhythm seems necessary, which is at odds with the application of agogics. However, the title of the Op. 14 specifically refers to the use as chamber music, and from that angle the participation of additional instruments seems rather unlikely. Considering the qualities of the ensemble, a performance by violins and basso continuo alone may have been entirely satisfying. I certainly would have preferred such a line-up to what is on offer here.

That said, I have enjoyed the playing of Italico Splendore, and the concept has certainly been realised very well. As dance music these 'sonatas' are very good entertainment, helped by the engaging and lively playing.

Johan van Veen

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