Semina violin IBS182021
Support us financially by purchasing from

Semina rerum - Italian Baroque Violin Sonatas
Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768)
Sonata in d minor, op. 2,12 [14:57]
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (fl 1660-1669)
Sonata in d minor, op. 4,6 'La Vinciolina' [05:49]
Giovanni Battista FONTANA (c1589-c1630)
Sonata II in D [05:31]
Ignazio ALBERTINI (1644-1685)
Sonata No.1 in d minor [07:33]
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736)
Sonata No.3 in A [05:12]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata in d minor, op. 2,3 (RV 14) [08:14]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Sonata in d minor, op. 4,8 [08:01]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12 'La Folia' [10:50]
Roberto Alonso (violin), Aglaya González (viola d'amore), Brais González (harpsichord)
rec. July 2020, Teatro JOFRE, Ferrol, Spain
IBS CLASSICAL IBS182021 [66:26]

The reader may wonder what the title of this disc is about. It is Latin and means "the seeds of things". Nowhere in the liner-notes it is explained. However, if one reads them, it does become a little clearer: the programme wants to show the development of music for violin and basso continuo from the early 17th century to the first half of the 18th century. From that angle the title may have been chosen to show how the seeds of the pieces by the best-known composers included here - Corelli and Vivaldi - have been sown in the first decades of the 17th century and have then grown into what was written in the period that is known as the late Baroque.

The liner-notes follow the development chronologically, but the pieces are not played in chronological order (unfortunately the years of birth and death of the composers are omitted in the track-list). The earliest work is the Sonata II by Giovanni Battista Fontana, one of the first composers who wrote sonatas for violin and basso continuo. There are six of them, and they were published posthumously in a collection which also included twelve ensemble pieces. It is worth mentioning that Fontana was a violinist, and therefore may have intended these sonatas for his own instrument, but offered the possibility to play them on other instruments as well. They are quite popular among recorder players. That also indicates that they are not that idiomatic: double stopping is avoided, for instance. Especially in this regard, sonatas were going to change in the course of the 17th century. It is hard to imagine the sonatas by Ignazio Albertini and Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli being played on other instruments than the violin.

The latter is a bit of a shadowy figure, as we know very little about his life, not even the years of his birth and death. He was from Tuscany, but at the time he composed his sonatas he worked in Innsbruck. Later in life he worked on Sicily, but then had to flee to Spain after having killed a castrato singer. His sonatas Opus 3 and Opus 4 all bear the names of musicians of his time, some of them colleagues in Innsbruck, and patrons. The Sonata VI from the Opus 4 bears the title La Vinciolina, which refers to Teodora Vincioli, a noble woman from Perugia. Pandolfi Mealli's sonatas are considerably more idiomatic than those of Fontana. I once heard a recording of one of his sonatas on the recorder, which I found rather unconvincing. They fit the violin like a glove.

What they have in common with Fontana's sonatas is that they are written in what has become known as the stylus phantasticus. One of its features is that it consists of a series of sections contrasting in tempo, metre and rhythm, which follow each other attacca. It lends such works a strongly theatrical character. The sonatas by Albertini are written in that style as well. He was one of many Italian performers/composers who were active at the imperial court in Vienna, which since the early 17th century was under the spell of the Italian style. Albertini's twelve sonatas are the only extant compositions from his pen; he seems to have written more, but nothing of that has been preserved. These sonatas were also printed posthumously, seven years after the composer was murdered under mysterious circumstances.

The remaining pieces represent a different stage in the development of violin music. One of the main differences is that they are formally separated in various movements of different tempi. In the course of time, a formalization of the order of movements took place. Arcangelo Corelli played an important role in this process. His Opus 5, a set of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo, was groundbreaking. It disseminated across Europe and the sonatas were arranged for other instruments, such as the recorder and the viola da gamba. The collection ends with what has become one of his most famous works, a set of variations on La Folia, a musical scheme that became very popular across Europe. The variations increase in virtuosity, and attest to the great technical skills of their composer. Others followed in his footsteps, such as Vivaldi, who closed his set of trio sonatas Op. 1 with variations on the same scheme. Here we get one of his solo sonatas from the Opus 2, printed in 1709. It follows Corelli's model of the sonata da camera, opening with a preludio, which is followed by three dances.

Antonio Caldara has not become known for his instrumental music, but for his vocal works, most of which he composed when he was in the service of the Habsburg emperor in Vienna. However, his first musical publication was a set of trio sonatas, and his oeuvre also includes a collection of six sonatas for violin and basso continuo. In the liner-notes he is called a violin virtuoso. It is the first time I have read such a statement. There is no mention of his having been educated as a violinist in New Grove. He was rather a professional cellist, and the many obbligato cello parts in his vocal works as well as his cello sonatas which he wrote in the later stages of his career bear witness to that. The Sonata in A performed here is a short piece of only three movements in the then uncommon order of an andante, followed by two allegros.

Geminiani and Veracini were violinists by profession. Geminiani called himself a pupil of Corelli, and arranged the latter's violin sonatas as concerti grossi. He did so too with his own violin sonatas Op. 4, which follow the model of Corelli's sonate da chiesa. These sonatas are not that often performed and recorded; the Sonata in d minor is one of the less familiar pieces on this disc. Veracini's sonatas are more often performed. He was a brilliant violinist, as he himself did not hesitate to proclaim. Modesty was not one of his character traits. The Sonata in d minor is from a collection with the title Sonate accademiche, which does not refer to their 'academic' character, but rather to the academies where such music was played (like the many chamber cantatas by Italian composers of his time). As one may expect from someone like Veracini, the sonata has a character of its own. It opens with a passacaglia, which is followed by an andante. Then we get a capriccio cromatico con due soggetti e loro rovesci - the latter means that the subjects are reversed. It is followed by an adagio, and the sonata closes with a ciaccona.

This disc is an interesting journey through the history of the violin sonata. Those who have a special interest in baroque violin music may not find much unknown stuff here. The selection of pieces could have been a little more adventurous. However, the pieces by Caldara and Geminiani are certainly not often performed, and Albertini can also be ranked among the lesser-known masters in the programme. Roberto Alonso is an excellent violinist, who delivers technically immaculate and musically captivating performances, playing in a rhetorical and gestural manner. The contrasts within sonatas and between movements comes off very well. Interesting is that here the viola d'amore is used as string bass, either independently or alongside the harpsichord. This is rather unusual: it is mostly a cello that is used as a string bass. I can't remember having heard the viola d'amore in this role before. It is not discussed in the liner-notes. It is an interesting option, and it works very well.

Even if you have quite a number of recordings of baroque violin sonatas in your collection, this disc is well worth being included in it.

On a technical note: on my copy there was a little interruption in track 9 (around 2:20). Be careful.

Johan van Veen