Antonio VANDINI (1691-1778)
Sonata in A minor, Van. 4 [7:18]
Sonata in C major, Van. 2 [6:34]
Sonata in B-flat major, Van. 6 [9:22]
Concerto in D major, Van. 5 [9:27]
Sonata in C major, Van. 1 [5:42]
Sonata in B-flat major, Van. 3 [7:46]
Sonata in E major, Van. 7 [5:09]
Elinor Frey (cello)
Patxi Montero (contrabass, viola da gamba)
Marc Vanscheeuwijck (cello)
Federica Bianchi (harpsichord)
Isabella Bison, Lorenzo Gugole (violins)
Maria Bocelli (viola)
Rec. 2019, Sala della Caritą, Padua, Italy.
PASSACAILLE 1079 [51:16]
Elinor Frey has been doing sterling work in raising the profile of less well-known composers such as Giuseppe Dall’Abaco (review), Angelo Maria Fiorč (review) and the composers on her Berlin Sonatas album (review). Antonio Vandini’s upbringing and education remain a mystery, but he emerged as a cellist in 1720, working alongside the likes of Vivaldi, being hired for a post in Prague where he was joined by his friend Tartini, but mostly working in Padua. Vandini and Tartini toured regularly giving concerts throughout Italy, and Vandini gets a mention in a report by Charles Burney in which “the famous old Antonio Vandini, on the violoncello, who, the Italians say, plays and expresses a parlare, that is, in such a manner as to make his instrument speak…” Burney also mentions that all of the cello players “hold the bow in the old-fashioned way, with the hand under it.” The cover portrait for this release is of the famous old man himself, and you can see that hand position quite clearly.
The works on this CD are Vandini’s only surviving pieces, but they cover a creative period from 1717 in the earliest sonata Van 1, up to around 1750 and 1770 in the last two sonatas. Marc Vanscheeuwijck’s booklet notes sum up this music as well as anyone: “in terms of style, all of Vandini’s compositions for cello can be situated within a general galant-style typical of Northern Italy between roughly 1720 and 1780. As the sonatas evolve, however, Baroque characteristics give way to more classical elements, while technical demands definitely become more rigorous over time.” You can place the sonatas in chronological order, in as far as the catalogue numbers are accurate, but the sequence on the disc is nicely chosen, with the sonatas framing what turns out to be quite an impressive Concerto with its lovely central Andantino. A variety of continuo accompaniments have been used in the sonatas, the ubiquitous harpsichord being joined with either cello or viola da gamba in most, the later sonatas being a duo between soloist and harpsichord. Vandini has plenty of lyrical inventiveness, exploring the upper range of the cello so that it sings out above the texture of the accompaniment. Playful character and rhythmic bounce all add to the entertainment in the faster movements, though if there are any surprises these are more often in technical features in the solo part - double-stopping and the like - rather than much excitement in terms of harmonic twists. Elinor Frey plays almost entirely without vibrato, which is currently de rigueur for music of this period, but demands needle-sharp intonation. There is only one minor key sonata, and having this as the opening work rather than placing it a bit later in the programme for added contrast would be my only comment, but this is a very minor point, pun intended.
There are a couple of releases covering this repertoire as alternatives. The Dynamic label has Francesco Galligioni and L’Arte dell’arco, which uses a chamber organ for some sonatas instead of harpsichord, as well as a bassoon in the continuo. This is a decent enough recording, though the whole thing is rather dry, the organ can’t match the rhythmic strength of the harpsichord and Galligioni’s playing isn’t as refined as Frey’s. The Tactus label has Bologna Baroque (review) in a programme that misses out the Concerto. The resonant acoustic does few favours to the continuo part in this case, with the harpsichord sounding glassy and indistinct. Of all of these Elinor Frey’s comes out on top for technical and musical polish and a feel of general enjoyment in the playing. The performances are well served by a nicely balanced recording set in a sympathetic space in which the instrumental timbres and detail can be followed without strain.