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Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c.1690-1758)
Behind Closed Doors: Brescianello - Volume 1
Concerto No 1, for violin, strings and continuo in F [10:58]
Sinphonia No 1, for strings and continuo in D [7:01]
Concerto No 2, for violin, strings and continuo in A [9:51]
Sinphonia No 2, for strings and continuo in G [6:18]
Concerto No 3, for violin, strings and continuo in B-flat [10:37]
Sinphonia No 3 for strings and continuo in C [8:53]
Ouverture-Suite in B-flat [15:59]
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler (violin)
rec. October 2020, Johnson Hall, Millfield School, UK

The title ‘Behind Closed Doors’ alludes to the first pandemic lockdown in the UK and to the precarious situation that has faced jobbing musicians ever since. I was especially impressed by the first half of Adrian Chandler’s booklet note, a sobering account of the circumstances which his terrific ensemble La Serenissima were forced to overcome during this period and more specifically of the obstacles they faced in putting the present disc together. Having read the testimonies of several musicians in recent months this was the first to have focused upon the impact of lockdown on freelance groups such as Chandler’s. Over the last fifteen years or so, La Serenissima has established a deserved reputation as one of the most imaginative interpreters of 18th century Venetian music around. Its standing as an outstanding live band has been reinforced by a sequence of exceptional discs released on Avie and Signum which prior to Covid-19 had created inexorable momentum for the group. The resultant inertia for any ensemble, let alone one based in the rural West Country, could easily have proved fatal and Chandler pays fulsome praise to the crowdfunders and other benefactors whose time and generosity enabled the group to survive and after a considerable hiatus record this album. I am pleased to report that the challenges presented by social distancing and the like during its preparation and recording seem to have had little discernible effect upon the intensity of their playing or the beauty of their sound.

Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello was apparently born in Bologna but seems to have spent the majority of his life in what is now southern Germany, initially in Munich before relocating to Stuttgart and its environs. He first arrived there in 1715 following the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession; he was among those musicians recruited by Teresa Kunegunda Sobieska, the electress of Bavaria who beforehand had been exiled in Venice. Significant works among his modest output include the opera Tisbe (Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima were responsible for its first modern UK performance at the 2018 Buxton Festival; there is a recording by Il Gusto Barocco and Jörg Halubek on CPO 777 806-2), sundry trio sonatas and concerti a tre and a set of 18 partitas for the colascione, a long-necked cousin of the lute. Yet the only music by Brescianello which seems to have been published during his lifetime is the sequence of 12 Concerti e Sinphonie, Op. 1; it consists of two books each of which comprise three violin concertos and three string symphonies. The present disc includes the first book as well as one Brescianello’s six orchestral suites, conceived in the French style.

Whilst the three Opus 1 concertos included can hardly be said to stray too far from the Vivaldian blueprint they are a delight to hear in these vital, refreshing accounts. They are effervescent in spirit and rich in invention. Chandler leads readings which are perfectly paced and tastefully inflected. The balance between solo and tutti could barely have been realised more effectively, a wonder in itself given the practical challenges involved a year ago. There is an attractive bloom to Chandler’s solo contributions, not least in the honeyed tone that emerges consistently in Brescianello’s delicate slow movements. The slightly briefer symphonies (or Sinphonie as they are unusually designated) project the ensemble in a slightly softer focus. These works each comprise two swift movements with brief slow pendants attached to the first to provide a fleeting contrast. La Serenissima’s performance and Signum’s recording of this delightful music seems ideal to me; I note that the sessions took place at Millfield School – it is unclear whether it was a creative choice or a practical necessity to move from La Serenissima’s most recent preferred recording location (Cedars Hall at Wells Cathedral School) but the new surroundings seem most conducive to the group’s distinctive sound.

I would venture to suggest that Brescianello’s Ouverture-Suite in B flat which is placed last on the programme provides the most distinctive music here. Adrian Chandler concedes that Vivaldi is the predominant influence behind the Opus 1 pieces but also refers to “…a Germanic thoroughness in their harmonic outlook” which may well be apparent to the ears of listeners blessed with a more detailed technical appreciation of this repertoire than mine. The French stylings of the Ouverture-Suite however are unmistakable even without the clues provided by the work’s title and the labels applied to its tiny dances (Gavotte, Bourrée, Rondeau, Gigue). The lovely Ouverture itself is stately in manner but delivered with an agreeable lightness of touch which prepares one neatly for the lithe and aptly contrasted morsels which follow. As ever Chandler’s nuanced, tasteful approach draws playing which is simultaneously affectionate and bold.

Chandler is candid in the note about his anxieties regarding the release of a disc dominated by a single opus from a composer who might conceivably be perceived as something of a peripheral figure compared to the established stalwarts of the Venetian scene. As far as this critic is concerned he needn’t have worried; this is a marvellous disc. The variety of Brescianello’s invention and the quality of the playing provide seventy minutes of pure listening pleasure. It’s a disc to savour piece by piece, not one to be relegated to background listening. Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello’s catalogue may be modest in size but the selections here achieve a consistently high quality. I certainly hope that Signum don’t delay too long in sharing the next instalment.

Richard Hanlon

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