Notes and Editorial Reviews
Dario Castello remains one of the most mysterious of composers: beyond a couple of references to his name on the title pages to his published works there is no record of his life; it has even been suggested—albeit inconclusively—that the name is an anagram. Yet his music offers clear testimony to his creative skills. The 1621 volume, which comprises twelve works, presents the first ever collection devoted entirely to instrumental sonatas; likewise, the seventeen pieces published in 1629 are also exclusively sonatas. Castello takes elements of the traditional multi-voiced Venetian canzona, not least passages of virtuoso solo writing and of concertante exchanges between several players, and successfully introduces them into extended works.
Much more is known of the life of Giovanni Picchi. He was a fine harpsichordist, organist of several Venetian churches and institutions, and a noted performer and composer of dance music. The works on this recording are as innovative and varied as this heritage would suggest.
R E V I E W S:
"There is some stunningly exuberant virtuosity on display here. A magnificent, exhilarating disc that goes straight into contention for the Want List. Buy a copy and give yourself a rare and special treat"
A very fine recording. Not only is the music fascinating but the performances are special. Buy it.
It so happens that whilst I was listening to this CD - originally released well over a decade ago - I was reading about the possible spying activities in Venice of the ill-fated Kit Marlowe. Then I read, in Andrew Stewart’s excellent and well-informed booklet notes, that Dario Castello is also a mystery. We do know that he claimed, in his two publications of 1621 and 1629, to be a member of the Doge’s team of piffari or wind players, “Dario of Venice, musician in our aforementioned chapel”.
Clear proof that he lived and worked in the city no archival activity has yet to come to light. In fact there is no proof that he even existed although family professional wind-playing musicians of that name did live in Venice in the 16
th Century. It is even suggested that his name might be a pseudonym designed to obfuscate other activities he might have needed to indulge in order to supplement his income, as did other artists at the time. The name ‘Castello’ is still common in Venice. I can vouch for that having stayed there only few weeks ago with a rather grumpy landlady and her family of that very name. In any event he was a very fine composer as this CD attests. The same applies to the better known Giovanni Picchi.
When it first came out in 1997 this CD achieved many plaudits. It’s not just a CD of brass music; there are several works that include strings and some solo items. The recording is well balanced as to repertoire and always interesting. In fact David Staff, Jeremy West and Adrian Woodward are some of the most expressive and virtuosic cornetto players ever to have set foot in a studio.
There are works called Canzonas and others called Sonatas. Is there a difference? Quite often a Canzona can be seen as a brief instrumental item in three or four contrasting sections usually with differing time signatures and often based on dance rhythms. These might also be polychoral, as happens in works here, for example Castello’s wonderful
Echo Sonata. Ah, ‘Sonata’ … where does that fit in? To a certain extent there is no difference. Iindeed for Picchi the terms seem to have been interchangeable. Again these are in contrasting sections frequently alternating and often in a more serious, imitative style with homophonic and contrapuntal sections.
So let’s not get bogged down but look at some of these pieces all of which are played superbly and with evident musical intelligence. They are far removed from the cornetto playing of thirty or so years ago.
Taking Castello first. He was a sophisticated and significant figure and, as early as the 1620s was using bar-lines in his instrumental publications (1621 and 1629). Recorded here are seven pieces of various length and for varying instrumentation. The opening track,
Canzon 19 is for a double choir (as used at St. Mark’s by Gabrieli before him) one of cornets, a sackbut and continuo organ and one of four sackbuts. The
Sonata No. 11 a 3 is, by contrast, scored for two violins, sackbut, harpsichord and organ. Apparently Castello was very keen to specify the instruments he required. The last track,
Sonata No. 13 is one of the most impressive with its regular tempo changes and instrumental colours. Chitarrone and harp are used against cornets and sackbuts. This makes a wonderful kaleidoscope of textures.
As Stewart comments in his notes, Castello, if employed at St. Mark's, must have “known the maestro di cappella Claudio Monteverdi”. Indeed the cornetto lines, especially at the cadence points and in the ornamentation, are very vocal and, as has often been said, the cornetto sounds like a human voice.
Giovanni Picchi was a versatile composer as is demonstrated here. There are three instrumental Canzons from his 1621 collection. There’s also a piece for two organs, which is a transcription of
Canzon 18. We hear an earlier keyboard work, a
Toccata, which found its way into the FitzWilliam Virginal Book possibly as early as 1615. It’s played brilliantly by Timothy Roberts. There are two Hungarian-inspired pieces. One is a lively and exotic
Padoana ditta la Ongara with its ground bass and its three passages of falling sequences marked, curiously ‘alio modo’. It is played on the harpsichord. Then there’s a
Ballo Ungaro played here, and very successfully, on the harp by Frances Kelly. Incidentally, I have a copy of both these pieces reprinted from the 1621 ‘Intavolatura de Balli d’arpicordo’ by the London Pro Musica Edition (EK35 -1981) a collection of seven keyboard pieces. It is fairly easily obtainable. The other three works by Picchi are instrumental and include the
Canzon 17 for a double choir of cornets and sackbutts.
Altogether then, this is a very fine recording. Not only is the music fascinating but the performances are special. Buy it.
– Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Canzon no 15 a 6 (Picchi)
Sonate concertate in stil moderno, Book 2 (Castello): Sonata no 11 a 3
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