PASSION AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
Accademia Amsterdam (period instruments)
CENTAUR 3166 (60:25)
DE FESCH, HACQUART, LOCATELLI, SAMMARTINI, SWEELINCK, TURINI, VIVALDI, WASSENAER
The idea behind this very eclectic disc is, according to the somewhat perfunctory booklet notes, to explore through chamber music the stereotypes of passionate Italians and staid Dutchmen. This was evidently concocted by oboist Onno Verschoor of the Accademia Amsterdam, and to insure that both sides were represented, cellist Alessandra Montani and keyboardist Fabio Ciofini were imported from Italy. The program includes a fairly wide range of composers, from Dutch early-Baroque master Jan Sweelinck to transitionary figures between that era and the early-Classical period, such as Pietro Locatelli and Giuseppe Sammartini. Of course, this being a Dutch production, there are three others hailing from the Netherlands, Unico van Wassenaer (whose concerti grossi were used as the basis for Stravinsky’s
under the mistaken belief they were actually by Pergolesi), Willem de Fesch (1687-1761), whose sonatas and concertos have been the bane of young violinists for decades, and Carel Hacquart (c.1640-1701), a shadowy figure historically who was actually an important court musician for William III of Orange. The earliest Italian is Francesco Turini (c.1589-1656), an organist born in Prague but who elicited praise from no less an authority than Charles Burney over a century later for his performing ability and contrapuntal compositions. To round it off, the program also includes a duo concerto by Vivaldi for “flauto d’echo,” violin, and continuo, one of his many chamber trio-sonata concertos.
I don’t know if they really achieve the goal of comparing, contrasting, and perhaps switching the stereotypes, but the four players do have a good sense of ensemble in some music that is rarely heard. There seems no real unity between any of the selections. Turini, for example, is represented by a C-Minor sonata entitled “Il Corsino,” but given its early date (1624), the debt to the first composer of instrumental works in the new style, Biagio Marini, is quite evident, especially in the relentless imitative responses between the violin and recorder. It is based around a simple scale, and the sequences are, as one might expect, more than just a little mechanical. Sweelinck’s variations on the
a favorite dance tune of the time, are equally pedestrian. Here, Corfini might have helped to enliven it with using either better articulation or perhaps varying the harpsichord stops. Of the Dutch composers, the terms “staid” and “old-fashioned” seem to fit the two whose dates put them squarely into the Classical period. Wassenaer’s sonata is reminiscent of Telemann and is firmly in the Baroque style, with a four-movement pattern and extensive use of mechanical
of the line in the first
. The only oddity is that before almost all of the cadences, he inserts some very quirky voice leading and harmony. While I find the third movement
quite moving, it is decidedly anachronistic. The best of these is the toe-tapping gigue at the end which are some wonderfully snappy rhythms. The de Fesch Sonata in G Minor is extremely Handelian, but the second movement is a rather stolid fugue, with pronounced homophonic episodes. It too ends with a gigue, but one that is more standardized in the vein of Telemann. The fifth sonata by Carel Hacquart contains a series of very nice short movements (the fifth of which is only 10 seconds long and little more than a set of quick suspensions) in the style of Corelli. Here the influence of the Italians is manifest, and though solidly composed, the work is hardly novel. Of course, one might expect the Italians to be more “passionate” in their efforts, but neither the Locatelli nor the Sammartini sonatas are unusual. Giuseppe Sammartini made his career mostly in London, where he wrote this work, and while it reflects the emerging Classical style in its use of the melody and harmony, one finds more than a hint of Handel lurking in the background. The Locatelli Sonata in F Major is a church work, with a nice dialogue between the violin and the organ continuo, unexpected triplet figurations, and occasional Alberti bass in the secondary thematic areas, particularly in the third movement. Finally, Vivaldi is Vivaldi, and the interplay between the recorder and violin, batting the lines back and forth, conforms to his well-known style.
The performances by the quartet of instrumentalists are always solid and elegant, though I might have wished for a bit more nuance in bringing these often mechanical pieces to life. It may not be entirely an accurate reflection of the comparative music of the two countries according to their passions or craftsmanship, but it does make for an hour of good chamber music. The Dutch composers are hardly going to be household names, so this is a chance to hear some of their music, particularly Hacquart. If one is expecting novelty or excitement in Baroque music, let alone originality, this disc will probably not provide that to the extent one anticipates, but, it is a solid and well-played set of works.
Bertil van Boer