1600 • Rinaldo Alessandrini (hpd, org, cond); Concerto Italiano (period instruments) • NAÏVE OP 30531 (60:07)
Selections by ANONYMOUS (ROSSI?), G. GABRIELI, MERULA, MACQUE, FRESCOBALDI, SALVATORE, CASTELLO, ZANETTI, MARINI, LEGRENZI, G. BONONCINI, TORELLI, DALL’ABACO
More than any question of instruments, strings, bows, tunings, or temperaments, the modern historical performance movement is about attitude—the desire to find in ancient music a livingRead more voice, filtered through vigorous scholarship, willing to experiment and push boundaries, and, most of all, capture the depths of emotion hidden in the score. Rinaldo Alessadrini and Concerto Italiano are some of the most successful exponents of this idiom, having recorded the complete Monteverdi madrigals on Opus 111 (highly recommended) as well as a host of other albums, from the birth of the Baroque to Bach and Vivaldi. In this album, simply titled 1600, Alessandrini has created a program that traces the rise of Italian four-part instrumental music from its earliest parting with vocal models to the rise of the string concerto, foreshadowing the development of the string quartet. In less capable hands, such an undertaking could have produced another mixed bag of early Baroque hits and misses. However, Alessandrini’s well chosen and elegantly assembled program never falters, guiding the listener with a gentle hand through the evolution of music from elaborations on Renaissance polyphonic models to the birth of the galant.
Only two works on the disc were not originally written for strings, transcribed by Alessandrini, as was fairly common practice of the time, for the ensemble at hand—in this case, two violins, viola, cello, and a continuo group of theorbo and keyboard. Giovanni de Macque’s brief and appealing Consonanze stravaganti is aptly named, a rich and pleasing treat for the senses, rendered even more so by the ensemble’s lush string tone—anyone who would argue that period instruments lack the warmth and richness of modern strings needs to listen to this. Tarquinio Merula’s Capriccio Cromatico hearkens back to the mannerist extravagance of Gesualdo’s vocal works, yet is tamed by the new monodic style made famous by Monteverdi. Merula’s canzona La Chremasca highlights the viola playing of Ettore Belli, a sweet and resonant color that adds a welcome touch of tenor richness to the ensemble.
The Passacaglia by Biagio Marini, one of Italy’s first virtuosi, showcases the ensemble’s admirable control of affect and instrument. They are not afraid to take their time, indulging in the art of the adagio, tantalizing the ear at cadences with energetic embellishments. Scorching dissonances melt into their resolutions, made even more powerful by a colorful historical temperament and fine attention to intonation. Moreover, they never lose sight of the irrepressible dance that permeates so much of this repertoire, and which makes this album such a delight. Rhythms are crisp and clear; articulations are precise and never devolve into mere busyness. The brief dance movements from Zanetti’s Il Scolaro are fun and jovial, and stand in stark contrast to the more introspective and mournful selections, especially the anonymous fantasy “The Tears of Orpheus Having Lost His Wife” that opens the album. Violinists Mauro Lopes Ferreira and Nicholas Robinson prove their mettle with the precision bellicosity of Dario Castello’s Sonata Decimasesta from his second collection of sonatas (1644). My only wish is that they took more risks with improvisation; there is a wild dimension to this music that needs to be allowed to run free, the only thing holding this excellent album back from being extraordinary.
The final four works on the album cleverly and succinctly illustrate the transitional repertoire that flourished in the time between Monteverdi and Corelli, including a lovely and expressive early work by the globe-trotting Giovanni Bononcini, cello virtuoso and Tweedle-Dum to Händel’s Tweedle-Dee, and a forward-looking concerto by Evaristo dall’Abaco. Particularly fine is the Sonata Seconda from the 1682 collection by Venetian composer Giovanni Legrenzi, whose lively counterpoint and gift for texture significantly influenced both Corelli and Bach.
The sound is close and clear yet with a realistic depth to the soundstage that avoids overcompensating for the softer voices of the continuo instruments, especially the theorbo. This is a great introduction to the four-part instrumental music of the Italian Baroque, a repertoire often over-represented by trio sonatas. I would have enjoyed a solo keyboard work or two added to the mix, but the album never lacked for variety. Informative, enlightening, and entertaining. More, please.
Passacalia a 4by Biagio Marini Conductor:
Period: Baroque Written: Venezia, 1655; Italy Notes: "Passacaglio a quattro e a tre" from "Sonate da chiesa e da camera," Venezia, 1655