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Giuseppe Clemente DALL’ABACO (1710-1805)
Cello Sonata in D minor, ABV 35 [11:25]
Cello Sonata VIII in G major, ABV 19 [10:35]
Cello Sonata in A major, ABV 30 [19:11]
Cello Sonata in C minor, ABV 32 [9:36]
Cello Sonata VII in C major, ABV 18 [11:38]
Elinor Frey (cello)
Mauro Valli (cello), Federica Bianchi (harpsichord), Giangiacomo Pinardi (archlute)
rec. 2019, Salla della Carita, Padua, Italy.
PASSACAILLE 1069 [62:25]

As Elinor Frey points out in her extensive and informative booklet notes for this release, Giuseppe Clemente Dall’Abaco has become quite well known for his 11 Capricci for solo cello, with recordings by the likes of Joachim Eijlander (review) and others making them easily available. There are however 35 sonatas and other compositions that remain almost entirely unknown, and this excellent recording goes some way towards showing us why Dall’Abaco was so acclaimed in his lifetime.

And these sonatas prove to be excellent indeed. Frey describes the technical features in the writing for the cello that are indicators of Dall’Abaco’s virtuosity on the instrument, but the impression left to the listener is very much more in the quality of the music itself. Lively fast movements exhilarate with their contrasts of texture and technical fireworks, but the attention is held as much if not more in the slower movements. The A modo di Viola da gamba of the Sonata in D minor is a remarkable processional with a funereal feel, the solo cello setting up a harmonic progression that is joined in sustained, spread chords from the harpsichord and embellished with the lute to magical effect. There is great depth of expression everywhere, but also plenty of understated good humour, for instance in the cello duet opening of the harpsichord-free Sonata in A major, which also has a remarkable central Aria which is like a poem in music. Other highlights for me include the descending-bass and driving low notes of the final Rondeau of the Sonata in C minor, and the breathtakingly sustained transparent eloquence of the Andantino in the final Sonata in C major is something that will hold you transfixed from beginning to end.

I have been a fan of Elinor Frey since encountering her Berlin Sonatas album on the Passacaille label (review), and she and her colleagues very much come up with the goods in this programme of Dall’Abaco’s Cello Sonatas. This is chamber music that is more than the sum of its parts. Mauro Valli’s second cello blends beautifully where required, and equals Elinor Frey when in full accompaniment mode, as does Giangiacomo Pinardi’s archlute. Richness of texture, rhythmic support and a wealth of harmonic splendour emerge from Federica Bianchi’s harpsichord, which is just present enough to be effective, but not so close as to interfere with the sound of the other instruments. Elinor Frey is brilliant of course, not over-egging the virtuoso aspects of the music but giving the music the variety of colour and character it needs, right up to the rousing drone effects in the final Allegro. La Zampogna of the Sonata VIII in C major that closes this fine programme. It’s worth noting that the striking cover to this release is a photo taken inside the Dall’Abaco family villa in Arbizzano near Verona, where the composer lived for the second part of his life. Booklet notes are printed in English, French and German.

Dominy Clements

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