Notes and Editorial Reviews
One of the best discs of baroque violin music I have heard for some time.
How do you present music by an unknown composer on a market which already overflows with discs and in particular in a time of economic decline? You can devote a whole disc to this repertoire, but there is a good chance that a considerable part of the target group would remain sceptical. So many interpreters pretend that the music they have discovered is of world-class quality. Do we need to believe them? Emilio Percan tries to convince us that the music of Giovanni Antonio Piani is really worthwhile. He does so by presenting it together with music by two well-known masters of his time. That seems the most sensible way: if the listener is
disappointed about Piani, he still has Handel and Geminiani to enjoy.
It seems that Percan is the first to have recorded any music by Piani, although the set of sonatas for violin and bc was published in 1975. It is the only extant music by him. It is not known whether he composed more. That seems quite likely, though, considering the fact that he was held in high esteem and made a brilliant career as a violinist. Piani was born in Naples, where his father, who was from Bologna, acted as a trumpeter at the court. Four of his brothers also became professional musicians. Giovanni Antonio entered the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini, where he was trained for eight years. He then moved to Paris where he settled in 1704 and was soon considered one of the greatest Italian violin virtuosos. In this capacity he took profit from the increasing fascination of Italian music for French audiences. By 1712 he was leading violinist to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse and Admiral of the French Fleet. At that time he was naturalized and had adopted the name of Jean-Antoine Desplanes.
In 1721 he joined the imperial chapel in Vienna, where he remained for the rest of his life. His status is reflected by the fact that he was the highest-paid instrumentalist of the court chapel. At the end of his career he had become director of instrumental music. The sonatas which are the thread of this disc were published as his opus 1 in 1712 in Paris. Six of the twelve are for violin and six for either transverse flute or violin, all with basso continuo. The collection is especially interesting because of the preface in which Piani gives extensive information about various aspects of performance practice, like fingering, bowing and dynamics, and also because of various markings in the music itself. The latter include symbols which indicate crescendi, diminuendi and
messa di voce. This can be explained by the fact that few musicians in France were acquainted with the Italian way of violin playing. It was considerably different from the French way as the writer Charles de Brosses observed.
The sonatas are a mixture of the
sonata da camera and the
sonata da chiesa. They begin with a
preludio; three of the opening movements on this disc have the addition
affettuoso. Next come two or three dances: allemanda, corrente, sarabanda or giga. The sonatas end with one or two movements with an indication which refers to the
sonata da chiesa: adagio, andante and allegro. If the four sonatas on this disc are an indication of the character of the whole set Percan's enthusiasm is not hard to understand. The thematic material is always interesting and engaging, and the way Piani treats it is highly satisfying. There is much to discover and enjoy here. Listen to the sparkling
aria (allegro) from the
Sonata in D, op. 1,10 or the two last movements of the
Sonata in G, op. 1,4: a highly expressive
adagio and a brilliant and virtuosic
allegro assai with frequent double-stopping. The virtuosity of many movements is not lost on Percan who makes a great impression with his playing technique. His performance is never at the cost of expression or good taste. The slow movements are delivered with great sensitivity, his phrasing and articulation are immaculate, and his ornamentation decent and tasteful.
His playing is just as superb in the other pieces on this disc. Francesco Geminiani and George Frideric Handel both spent a large part of their lives in England, even playing together at the court. Among the pieces they performed were the sonatas opus 1 by Geminiani, which show traces of his admiration for Arcangelo Corelli. He gained by the
Italomania - as Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot calls it - which had English music-lovers in its grip. Geminiani's sonatas follow the model of the
sonata da chiesa, with its sequence of four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast. Handel was so popular as a composer that unscrupulous publishers printed sonatas in scorings and keys which were not according to Handel’s intentions. They even published sonatas under his name which were not from his pen. As a result the corpus of chamber music is rather complex. The
Sonata in D (HWV 371) is one of those whose authenticity is established, and which was originally intended for the violin. Handel uses thematic material from earlier compositions from various moments in his career, and therefore it is considered his latest sonata for violin.
Percan's qualities come to the fore here as well. I must not forget to mention his partners, Oriol Aymat Fusté at the cello and Luca Quintavalle at the harpsichord. They greatly contribute to the splendid delineation of the rhythmic pulse, which is also emphasized through the dynamic accents in the violin part. All three are members of the German baroque orchestra l'arte del mondo, which explains their strong congeniality in the interpretation of this repertoire.
This is a superb disc, in fact one of the best discs with baroque violin music I have heard for some time. Making the acquaintance of the music of Giovanni Antonio Piani was a most pleasant experience. I hope that his other sonatas will be recorded in the near future, preferably by these three fine artists.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
Although Emilio Percan’s collection of sonatas for Onyx includes works by the roughly contemporary composers Giovanni Antonio Piani (Desplanes), Francesco Geminiani, and George Frideric Handel, it centers on four sonatas from Piani’s op. 1 (apparently the only works he published). Percan makes a bold statement in these, beginning in the First’s Preludio (with a loud gulp for breath preceding it). In fact, the gestures in this sonata, brought to life with gusto and a violin (made by his friend, luthier Johannes Loescher, who also made the ensemble’s cello) trumpet-like in its strength and clarity. The raw energy of the Eighth Sonata, though it’s cast in a minor key, gives way to the suave opening movement of the 10th Sonata (Piani included
in the titles of the preludio movements of the Fourth, Eighth, and 10th sonatas). Percan sprinkles highlights in the passagework of the following Corrente; jaunty steady motion in Oriol Aymat Fusté’s and Luca Quintavalle’s realization lightens the Andante.
Geminiani’s Eighth Sonata, in B Minor like Piani’s, also opens with an
(as does Handel’s popular D-Major Sonata, included in Percan’s program). Although Geminiani, among the students of Corelli, may have leaned toward conservatism, Percan and the ensemble demonstrate in the slow movement how striking he could make the melodic design of his sonatas. Since Percan and his colleagues chose works that would provide an opportunity for listeners to compare Piani and his contemporaries, the sonata in general and this movement in particular provide apposite material for the study. Quintavalle takes an active role, realizing the figured bass of the first movement of Handel’s sonata with cascading figures that enhance, but don’t distract from, the subtle melodic and dynamic nuances of Percan’s performance. The ensemble’s energy in the two Allegros (with ornamentation to oil the skids in the second) might remind some listeners of similar qualities in Piani’s works, but the sensibility in their reading of the Larghetto stands out. Geminiani’s more somber Sonata in C Minor combines two Graves with two Allegros, the former affecting, the latter energetic but perhaps more reminiscent of Corelli in these performances.
The program returns at its end to the point at which it began: two sonatas by Piani. One of these, No. 4, represents the first of those included in a major key, but the two final movements of the Second Sonata (a Gigue and a Presto) provide plenty of intoxicating good cheer. Percan’s ornamentation in the first movement of the Fourth Sonata enhances the liquid flow of melody in this Adagio e affetuoso. Here, as elsewhere, Onyx’s engineers seem to have favored the violin.
Percan remarks in the notes that after discovering Piani’s sonatas, he cast about for a way in which to present them to audiences. The result of his exploration, with its illuminating comparisons (and ingratiating performances in themselves of the sonatas by Handel and Geminiani) deserves a warm commendation to those wishing to investigate unrecognized composers from the period, to violinists in search of repertoire, and to general listeners all at the same time.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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