Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Alessandro Melani (1639-1703)
Emmanuelle de Negri (soprano)
Ensembles EXIT & Hemiolia/Emmanuel
rec. 2021, Salle des Croisades, Château de Versailles
Text and translation included
Reviewed as a stereo 24/48 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
CHÂTEAU DE VERSAILLES SPECTACLES CVS071 
In a time in which music was part of everyday life, hardly an event of any importance went by without the performance of music. That music was either specifically written for the occasion or assembled for it from works that had been written previously. In the former case we may exactly known what music was performed. In the latter case it is usually more complicated to reconstruct what was or may have been performed. The disc to be reviewed here brings us to Rome, where in 1686 and 1687 celebrations took place in honour of the French king Louis XIV. The liner-notes don't mention what exactly the reason for those celebrations were. From a search on the internet I learnt that they were organized by Cardinal d'Estrées, brother of the French Ambassador to Rome. The reason was the signing of the Edict of Fontainebleau, by which Louis XIV, on October 18, 1685, had revoked the Edict of Nantes which, since 1598, had defined the rights of Protestants in France.
The recording aims at giving an idea of what was performed in the open air at the concert that closed the festivities. Only one piece of music can be connected with certainty to that concert: a cantata of which only the text has survived. It seems very likely that Alessandro Melani was the composer, as it is known that he was involved in the event as the composer of a cantata that has been lost. Only its title is known, and Emmanuel Resche-Caserta suggests that it may be the same cantata with a different title.
The other pillar on which this recording is based is that it is documented that in the late 1680s large-scale sinfonias were played at the Piazza di Spagna, and that during such performances Arcangelo Corelli, as concertmaster, directed a large ensemble of strings and winds. As we have descriptions of the concerts in 1686, which refer to the participation of oboes, trumpets and drums, and we also know for sure that Corelli's concerti grossi were sometimes performed with large ensembles of strings and winds, the decision was taken to use them as the backbone of this recording. Another notable feature is that we don't get complete concerti grossi as they were published in 1710. It is assumed that Corelli put them together for publication from music he had written previously. This may justify the decision of the performers to select single movements and put them together to 'new' concerti grossi. The second item on this disc, for instance, is called Sinfonia grande con le trombe and comprises movements from the Concerti grossi Nos. 1 and 7 from Corelli's Opus 6.
The performers have also turned to Corelli's trio sonatas. It is known that Corelli's concerti grossi could also be played as trio sonatas. As the reader may know, the heart of the concerto grosso is the concertino, usually consisting of two violins and bass - that is also the scoring of a trio sonata. The connection between the two genres is evident. The performers assume that the performance practice may also have been the other way around: trio sonatas performed as concerti grossi. In that case, instead of omitting part of what the composer has written (the ripieno), the performers need to add something, as a concerto grosso needs a viola part. Those have been reconstructed for this recording.
The remaining item is the cantata. As mentioned, the music is lost. The assumption that Melani was the composer is not far-fetched. The cantata was commissioned by the Cardinal mentioned above, and Melani had close links to the French community in Rome. He had dedicated a collection of sacred music to the Cardinal, and in Venice another cantata from his pen has been found that is written in honour of Louis XIV. For this recording the performers have turned to other music by Melani and adapted it to the text of the cantata performed during the celebrations. Rather than performing it from the beginning to the end uninterruptedly, it was decided to insert several sinfonias, which Resche-Caserta believes is in line with the practice at the time.
In the performance a large orchestra is employed, which includes nineteen violins, six violas, five cellos and bass violins and three double basses, plus bassoon, three trumpets and timpani. There is evidence of such large ensembles, from engravings and pay registers. How to employ them is largely the decision of the performers as there is no documentary evidence of their participation at the celebrations. This decision was partly motivated by the wish to achieve a good balance between the various groups of instruments in the orchestra.
This recording would have been really 'authentic' if the music had been recorded in the open air. That is not the case. It does not compromise the importance of this production as it sheds light on a performance practice that is partly documented, but seldom practised. Obviously, reconstructions as offered here have to be partly speculative: we mostly don't know exactly what was performed and how. Even so, we get a good impression of what might have been performed.
The two ensembles which join here for the performances are doing a good job; the playing leaves nothing to be desired. Even so, I am not fully satisfied as I often found the performances a bit bland. I have heard more energetic performances of Corelli's concerti grossi. However, I realise that a performance with such a large ensemble, including trumpets, is not comparable with a performance by a much smaller string band. Slower tempi and lesser-profiled performances may well be the price we have to pay for such a large line-up as we have here. Emmanuelle de Negri would not have been my first choice for the cantata. She understands the nature of the piece, and she certainly knows what to do with the text, but the amount of vibrato she applies, is hard to swallow.
That said, this is a disc which those who are interested in matters of performance practice may want to add to their collection. Moreover, Corelli's music is hard to beat, and Melani's cantata shows that the fact that his music is given more attention in recent years, is well deserved.
Johan van Veen
[Sinfonia per le trombe]
[Sinfonia grande con le trombe]
Trio sonata in F, op. 2,7: adagio
[Sinfonia mesta per i violini]
[Sonata con l'eco]
[Cantata per la sera con sinfonie]
Qual armonia guerriera
Trio sonata in D, op. 2,1 (exc)
[Sinfonia maestosa con ogni stromento]