Violin Sonatas Op 4: Nos. 1; 3; 6; 7; 10; 12
Liana Mosca (vn); Antonio Mosca (vc); Luca Pianca (lt); Giorgio Paronuzzi (hpd)
STRADIVARIUS 33853 (67:41)
There can be no doubt that Francesco Geminiani was one of the foremost Italian violinists of his day Not only did he study under some of the best teachers, including Archangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, he took advantage of his musical heritage by exporting it along with himself to London in 1714, where he was sometimes seen as a rival to Handel. Although he did write a couple of operas (and that is where the rivalry seems to have appeared), for the most part he devoted himself to music for his instrument, publishing collections of concertos and sonatas over the course of about 30 years. He was also quite interested in the theoretical aspects of his craft, and so there also exist no fewer than six treatises on topics ranging from taste in music to violin pedagogy to how to accompany solo works to even how to play the guitar. In short, he was both a composer and theorist, whose remarkable breadth of knowledge was considered highly during his lifetime.
Today, much of his music is not exactly dinner table conversation, save for the various concerti grossi, many of which are performed by students with some degree of frequency. His first set of sonatas, published as the op. 1 in 1716, reveals his Corellian ancestry and is noted for its almost fiendish difficulty. Here, the first volume of two devoted to his 12 violin sonatas published in 1739 as his op. 4, there is a decidedly different aesthetic at work. In his treatises on the violin and musical taste, he admonishes the performer to “pour the same exalted spirit into his own performance” after making himself “thoroughly acquainted with all of the beauties” of the music. This sounds very much like the emerging
aesthetic, and this first disc, devoted to the major key sonatas of the set, seems to embody it completely. That is not to say that there is not some old fashioned figuration at work here, but Geminiani seems determined to modernize his compositions to give them more structural and harmonic contrast over the entire movement. And he can be downright experimental at times, such as the strange opening movement of Sonata 12, which begins with a violin cadenza self accompanied by a drone, that suddenly spins out of control with technical feats of virtuosity before fading off into an uncertain harmonic conclusion. The lilting pastoral movement of the opening of Sonata 7, with its flowing, highly ornamented line, devolves into what seems like a solo partita by Bach (though the basso does eventually join the violin), followed by a dialogue between the bass and violin that stretches over two movements, first flowing like a gentle stream and then politely conversing in the final minuet. The second movement of Sonata 3 is so lyrical and contains such subtle rhythmic variation that it could well have been written by C. P. E. Bach much later, and in the third movement of the same sonata the focus is on slowly evolving mysterious suspensions.
The technical virtuosity required for these works is astounding, especially considering the various double- and triple-stops that the violin is required to do throughout, not to mention running up and down the entire range of the instrument both in terms of scales and arpeggios. It is clear that Geminiani was a violinist of the first-rank, and he expected those who would perform these sonatas to be of equal ability.
The complete op. 4 has not, in so far as I am aware, been systematically recorded. A selection did appear on an Oehms Classics disc from 2004 with Rudger Lotter as the soloist, and the odd single sonata has appeared from time to time in various collections of Geminiani and colleagues such as Pietro Locatelli, but it is clear that violinist Liana Mosca and her very fine continuo group consisting of her husband, Luca Pianca, on the archlute, and Giorgio Paronuzzi are out to remedy this situation. By using a Venetian violin from about 1750, she imbues these works with a mellow, softly rounded tone (in comparison with the more transparent sound of Lotter) that blends nicely with the continuo group. Her double- and triple-stop work is clear and precise, and her ability to move fluidly between the various movements while adding a nice ornamentation makes her interpretations bring the music to life. For instance, in the second movement of Sonata 1, the tempos are flexible enough to show just the right amount of hesitancy at the cadences, which in turn makes for a wonderful anticipation, while the plaintive lament of the third movement offers a lovely, even magical contrast with the lute continuo, shifting textures fluidly. In short, the performance is outstanding, and it is clear that this (and the future second volume, whose appearance I am awaiting with anticipation) will become the model against which future performances must be measured. Moreover, her sensitive interpretation fully supports the new
aesthetic that Geminiani was attempting to achieve. Any lover of early Classical period chamber music will want to have these in his/her collection.
Bertil van Boer