Notes and Editorial Reviews
Giovanni Battista Bassani, born c.1650 in Padua, Italy, was one of the representative composers of Bolognese music; during his lifetime he stood alongside the likes of Torelli and Corelli, but the popularity of his music declined rapidly after his death. This new recording of his Sinfonie Op.5 is an opportunity for listeners to become acquainted with his music, which thoroughly deserves to be rediscovered.
Not only was Bassani one of the most celebrated musicians of his era, held in high esteem by Bach and Handel, his Sinfonie Op.5 proved extremely popular with audiences and performers: four reprints were made and a number of handwritten copies spread throughout the world. Somewhat confusingly, the work is actually a set of
12 sonatas for strings and basso continuo, possibly written with church use in mind. Stylistically, these sonatas demonstrate Bassani's versatility and ability to draw together different styles and techniques; movements range from solemn toccatas to quick dances, and, in many cases, music of great contrast is created through building upon the same musical materials.
Displaying Bassani's skill as a composer, violinist and organist, the sonatas that make up the Sinfonie Op.5 are some of the most accomplished and forward-looking works of the late 17th century, foreshadowing sonata form in their structures. This new recording is an exciting chance to discover Bassani's previously overlooked music, played by Baroque-performance specialists Ensemble Stil Moderno.
- New recording made in November 2011.
- Includes booklet notes, written by specialists in this field.
- Ensemble StilModerno adheres to the Historically Informed Performance Practice, and plays these original and skilfully written works with passion and virtuosity.
R E V I E W:
Bassani made his career entirely in Northern Italy. He was born in Padua and died in Bergamo. In between he is believed to have studied in Venice - probably with Daniele Castrovillari and in Ferrara, with Giovanni Legrenzi. From 1667 onwards he worked as an organist at the religious fraternity of Accademia della Morte in Ferrara. In June of 1677 he was made a member of the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, founded some eleven years earlier by Vincenzo Maria Carrati. In 1682 he was elected
principe of the Accademia. At various times he held posts in Finale Emilia, just over twenty miles north of Bologna, at the court of Duke Alessandro II (near Modena), and in Ferrara. From 1686 he was
capella of the cathedral at Ferrar. The last years of his life, from 1712, were spent in Bergamo, where he was in charge of music at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and taught in the music school of Congregazionè di Carita - full details can be found in Richard Haselbach’s
Giovanni Battista Bassani of 1955.
Of the thirteen operas Bassani is known to have written only a few arias from one of them (
Gli amori all moda of 1688) seem to survive. His sacred vocal works have fared rather better, several oratorios and other works being known. A number of attractive cantatas also survive. One of the oratorios,
La morta delusa dal pietoso suffragio (1687) got a very decent recording back in 2002, from Ensemble Fenice conducted by Jean Tubéry. The well-developed dramatic sense, the interplay of ideas and emotions in the interaction of five characters, suggesting a composer of real imagination. There is also a 2009 recording of
La tromba della divina misericordia (1676) on Concerto (CD 2044), a recording I haven’t heard but which has received a good deal of acclaim. It is conducted by Carlo Centemeri - organist on this new recording of the Sinfonie - and the Ensemble StilModerno are amongst the forces deployed on it.
During his lifetime Bassani had a considerable reputation as a violinist. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that of purely instrumental works we appear to have - beside a few stray pieces, mainly for organ - only two sets of twelve sonatas, published as his opus 1 and opus 5. Of opus 1, published as
Baletti, Correnti, Gighe e Sarabande in 1677, there’s a recording by Ensemble Armonico Cimento on Tactus (TC 542701). Of the opus 5 collection there doesn’t appear to be any previous recording. The opus 1 sonatas all have four movements - each comprising the four dance movements indicated on the collection’s title-page and in the same order. In his opus 5 set - it is striking that Bassani makes no use of the word ‘sonata’ in the forma title of either collection - Bassani varies the form rather more: some are in four movements, some in five and some in six. All are built around the alternation of fast and slow movements.
I don’t think that one would necessarily guess that the composer of these sonatas was a famous violinist, since there is little sense of ostentation or virtuosity. Bassani was not, presumably, writing these pieces for himself to play. In his helpful booklet note Carlo Centemeri suggests that they may have been intended for ecclesiastical use, with various movements suitable for different points in a service: “the canzone (at the Epistle), the ricercare (often Cromatico, after the Creed), the solemn toccata before the Mass, the ‘durezze et ligature’ toccata (for the Elevation) and some dance movements suitable for Communion or the end of the service”. The suggestion is certainly a plausible one but, even if correct, it doesn’t limit the ways in which we should hear this music. It isn’t hard to imagine other social contexts in which it would work well and it certainly engages and sustains a listener’s interest if heard as ‘pure’ music.
Several of the movements Bassani marks ‘grave’ - such as the first movement of Sonata 2, the second of Sonata 4 and the second of Sonata 11 - have a powerful and haunting beauty, solemn and sweet, dignified and human. Bassani can ‘dance’ too. The brief presto which closes Sonata 9 got me up from my chair each time I played it. The allegro which closes Sonata 3 communicates a spirit-uplifting joy. The alternation of slow and fast in Sonata 8 - its six movements marked grave - presto - grave - allegro - grave - allegro - produces a delightfully balanced effect, and seems to suggest something of the complementarity of human nature in a way which musical works altogether more huge in scale can’t always manage; the whole Sonata is less than six minutes long.
In short this is fine music. It is well-played on this recording. The Ensemble StilModerno is thoroughly at home in the idiom. The instrumental interplay is perfectly judged though their performance is clearly thoroughly informed by a knowledge of baroque practice. They choose to play on modern instruments. Only those who care more about authenticity than about music will be troubled by their choice. Anyone who loves the instrumental music of this period is urged to hear this.
-- Glyn Pursglove , MusicWeb International
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