What’s in a name? The complete title of Agostino Guerrieri’s compilation (listed as op. 1 but, according to theorbo and recorder player Sven Schwannberger, perhaps his entire output) reads as follows: Sonate diRead more Violino a 1. 2. 3. 4 per Chiesa & anco Aggianta per Camera. But the selection includes sonatas for ensemble, two violins, harp, and recorder as well as a handful for violin. Parnassi Musici has also added two sonatas by Antonio Maria Turati, Guerrieri’s teacher. William S. Newman identifies Guerrieri as Genoan and describes his first opus as a collection of 21 church sonatas, two balletti, and a partita on the Ruggiero bass. He may not have actually examined the set, because he reports their melodic design and fugal writing as “reportedly” good. Willi Apel’s German treatise from 1983 on 17th-century Italian violin music, published in English in 1990, discusses neither Guerrieri nor his teacher. How deeply we’ve delved in the last several decades!
The sonatas last only between about two and seven minutes; their multisectional structures aren’t so regular as appear in Arcangelo Corelli’s sonatas da chiesa and da camera. They encompass, both individually and collectively, so wide a range of textures and affects that they seem perhaps larger than their size and more highly organized than their sequences of movements might suggest. From the contrapuntal textures of La Sevesca (two violins, viola, and continuo) through the crisp rapid-fire staccatos of La Galeazza (a sort of trio sonata), to the élan of La Sevaschina, performed as a solo sonata for recorder (with continuo), they provide opportunities for Parnassi Musici to display an ingratiating, and at times dazzlingly creative, approach to sonorities. In La Brignola, another trio sonata, the violins frequently run in parallel melodic lines; the ensemble keeps the rhythms lively and the textures crisp. La Tità, for harp (a solo Alpa doppio; Sven Schwannberger’s notes correct Alpa to Arpa), still employs organ as the continuo instrument (Schwannberger explains that since the title implicitly specifies organ, the ensemble has employed it with few exceptions). La Viviani (for three solo violins, theorbo, and continuo), one of two works by Turati incorporated into the program (and also, according to Schwannberger, reprinted by Guerrieri in his collection), sounds less developed melodically than do his student’s compositions. Guerrieri’s own Balletto Primo, played on recorder, violin, and continuo, sounds exceptionally sprightly, with frothy cascades of ornaments. La Lucina, written for double harp or theorbo and violin with continuo, hardly sounds like a solo violin sonata in La Parnassa’s performance (violin, theorbo, and continuo—again including organ), with the violin exchanging fragments of melody with both theorbo and continuo. The violin again engages in witty dialog, this time with recorder, in the Balletto Seconda. The Sonata Malinconica, played in this collection by recorder with continuo, appearing immediately after the Balletto, points up the set’s variety and highlights the contrasts it encompasses. La Marchetta and La Benedetta both employ the trio-sonata forces of two violins and continuo, while La Rotini, at 5:45, one of the longest pieces on the program, emerges as the only selection from op. 1 that approaches the solo violin sonata in texture. But if the texture is similar, the manner differs markedly, engaging the continuo, as the solo violin does, in dialog as often as it declaims over a simple accompaniment. La Rosciana, another trio-sonata-like work, leads through La Pietra (for two violins, basso di viola—here, cello—and continuo) to the last work, La Rovetta, a suggestive and haunting sonata à 4, by Turati (del Turati mio maestro).
Violinist Margaret MacDuffie, who plays the solo violin parts, sounds somewhat abrasive on the early 18th-century Parisian violin by Claude Pierray upon which she plays, but she brings real sizzle to the rapid passagework and such penetrating insight to the interweaving of her part with others that listeners should soon become so accustomed to her timbres. CPO’s engineers captured the ensemble’s bright sonorities with bracing clarity in the Hans Rosbaud Studio of the SWR in Baden-Baden in January and July 2008. For those who trace the history of the violin from Biagio Marini through his Venetian contemporaries to Corelli and his followers, the assured sonatas by Guerrieri (and La Rovetta by his teacher) may come as a welcome surprise, perhaps opening the way, and even providing the stimulus, to more extensive exploration. Very strongly recommended.