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Forza azzurri!

La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: February 2022
Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Mellor & Simon Fox-Gál
Engineered by Simon Fox-Gál & Dave Rowell
Release date: November 2022
Total duration: 82 minutes 5 seconds

Cover artwork: The Madonnina Statue of Milan Cathedral.
© Getty Images

Two recorder concertos, two violin concertos and one for strings and continuo are book-ended by an enterprising 'Introducione' and an Overture-Suite in La Serenissima's latest foray into the glories of the Italian Baroque.

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Given the variety of Italian baroque instrumental music on offer to today’s listener, one could be forgiven for thinking that Vivaldi had faced little competition during his lifetime. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst the volume of music that flowed from Vivaldi’s pen was unusually plentiful, many other composers were needed to fulfil the needs of the regional courts and churches throughout Italy. Even abroad, no court was complete without its resident Italian maestro or group of Italian string players, a situation that encouraged composers such as Dall’Abaco, Brescianello and Sammartini to pursue careers north of the Alps.

Born in Milan to the French oboist Alexis Saint-Martin, Giuseppe Sammartini spent his early career working alongside his brother, Giovanni Battista, as an orchestral oboist. His fine reputation as a player was further enhanced by a lack of serious competition. This state of affairs was noted by the visiting flautist and theorist Johann Joachim Quantz, who wrote that Giuseppe was the only good wind player at the Teatro Regio Ducale.

Soon after Quantz’s visit, Sammartini left Milan for Brussels before moving on to London in 1729 where he remained until his death. His fame as a virtuoso spread quickly, and presently he was in demand both as an oboist and as a composer of instrumental music with many of his sonatas and concertos being sent to the London printing presses. It is the recorder concerto however, that is probably his best-known work. This concerto survives in a non-autograph source in Stockholm’s Statens Musikbibliothek, evidence of a former trend for Italian repertoire that became so popular with many contemporary Scandinavian music-societies.

In contrast to Sammartini’s northern choice of abode, Brescianello and Dall’Abaco opted to stay closer to Italy. Dall’Abaco, a pupil of Torelli, joined the Bavarian court around 1704 but, following Maximilian II Emanuel’s defeat to the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim (1704), he fled with the Elector to Belgium, and thenceforth—following another defeat by Marlborough at the Battle of Ramilies (1706)—to France. This prolonged exile exposed Dall’Abaco to a large amount of French music whose influence can be found in his six published sets of sonatas and concertos. His general style, however, remains predominantly Italianate as shown by the final concerto of his Opus 6, its fiery energy paying tribute to the concertos of Albinoni and Vivaldi.

The Treaty of Rastatt (1714) marking the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession signalled a return to Munich for Dall’Abaco. Whilst the Elector arrived from the north, his wife, the Electress Therese Kunegunde arrived from Venice with an entourage that included the violinist and composer Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello.

Brescianello’s stay in Munich didn’t last long. Following the death of Johann Christoph Pez (1716), Oberkapellmeister of the Württemberg court (Stuttgart), Brescianello successfully applied for the post of Director musices. Even though his initial brief was to take charge of the court’s chamber music, Brescianello, perhaps with one eye on the post of Oberkapellmesiter, decided to dedicate his ‘opera pastorale’ Tisbe to Duke Eberhard Ludwig in January 1718; he eventually succeeded to his preferred position in 1721. Although Brescianello’s fortunes ebbed and flowed in tandem with those of the court (he lost his post completely between 1737 and 1744), he remained in nearby Ludwigsburg until his death in 1758.

He was not a prolific composer, but his surviving output is of an exceedingly high quality; it is mostly Italianate but also incorporates elements of the French style as well as a thorough harmonic outlook popular amongst the German courts.

His employer, Eberhard Ludwig, Duke of Württemberg, had fought on the side of the Austrians, British and Dutch against the French and Spanish during the War of the Spanish Succession, so it is unsurprising that the music of his court tended to look towards Italy rather than France. That said, Eberhard was no stranger to the French style; his visit to Louis XIV at Versailles shortly before 1700 had made a profound impression upon him, perhaps later prompting Brescianello to compose a collection of six orchestral suites and a stand-alone chaconne in the French style. The present suite in D major is set apart from the others by virtue of a massive concluding Ciaconna instead of the customary Giga or Gigue. Otherwise, the work conforms to the layout of its fellow suites with the Ouverture being followed by a collection of dance movements.

Bologna, in the year 1690 was witness to the birth of two violinist composers; whilst Brescianello found modest fame outside his native Italy, Lorenzo Gaetano Zavateri, another pupil of Torelli, chose to pursue his career in Livorno, Venice, Ferrara and Bologna. His surviving oeuvre suggests that he was first and foremost a violinist, and a composer second. That said, his two published sets—one of sonatas and one of concertos—show considerable skill; his Opus 1 concertos (c1735) received praise from Padre Martini for their ‘well refined intelligence’. The set comprises one concerto for two violins, five for solo violin, and six for strings and continuo alone. The opening Introducione was probably intended for the theatre, its arresting slow movements and energetic allegros being perfectly designed to quieten a rowdy audience.

Without a doubt, the quantity of instrumental music composed by Vivaldi (interestingly perhaps yet another pupil of Torelli) is staggering. To have composed around 500 concertos and 100 sonatas is even more impressive when one considers that Vivaldi prioritised his career as an impresario and composer of operas over everything else.

As well as writing works for his own private use, he also supplied many concertos to the Ospedale della Pietà (the Venetian foundling institution with which he was associated for much of his life) and to the theatre, where his concertos provided entr’acte entertainments.

The theatre is an unlikely destination for the violin concertos presented here, both of which lack the rubric ‘senza cembali’ (without harpsichords), a term commonly found amongst his operatic concertos where the presence of more than one harpsichord was standard (elsewhere it was unusual). It is more likely that they were either written for himself or for the Pietà where his legendary violin technique was passed on to his famous pupils.

Both works were probably written during the 1730s and survive today as part of Vivaldi’s personal manuscript collection, now held in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, Turin. The manuscripts show Vivaldi’s compositional processes with numerous corrections and alterations: the slow movement to the concerto in A was initially intended to open with a tutti introduction (solo is written above the start of the second phrase) whilst the concerto in E minor shows his inclination to tinker with works that have already been finished. Not only does this work feature an alternative ending, but it also includes (unusually) an autograph copy of the cembalo part whose opening is marked piano instead of the arresting forte molto found in the first page of the autograph score.

Vivaldi also was known to experiment with changes in instrumentation. The manuscript for the concerto for sopranino recorder clearly shows the heading 'Concerto per Flautino' written in the centre of the upper margin; to the right of this is written (presumably at a later date) 'Gl’istromenti trasportati alla 4a bassa' allowing the concerto to be played down a 4th on a larger recorder.

The destination for this concerto was almost certainly the Pietà; this institution evidently possessed a player capable of playing Vivaldi’s three virtuoso flautino concertos and C minor concerto for treble recorder. If a player of this talent had worked on the freelance circuit, it is likely that someone else would also have composed concertos to add to their repertoire. The fact that Vivaldi’s concertos survive in their own bubble, suggests that their intended soloist was a player with little access to outside movement, such as a member of the Pietà’s figlie di coro.

Adrian Chandler © 2022

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