The Cello in Baroque Italy
Roel Dieltiens (cello), Richte van der Meer (cello), Anthony Woodrow (double bass), Robert Kohnen (harpsichord, organ)
Konrad Junghänel (theorbo)
rec. 1990/91, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, Netherlands. DDD ACCENT ACC24304 [67:30 + 71:01]
In the 18th century the cello developed into one of the main string instruments. It was often used in the basso continuo but increasingly also as a solo instrument. Its history is not straightforward. The word 'cello' seems to have been used for the first time in 1665 by Giulio Cesare Arresti, an organist and composer from Bologna. That doesn't mean that the instrument he referred to did not exist before; it was probably just a new name given to an already existing instrument. In the first half of the 17th century no fewer than 24 different words were used for a string bass instrument. These don't always refer to different instruments; several words may have been used for one and the same. It is very hard to establish which kind of instruments are meant.
These two discs by the Belgian cellist Roel Dieltiens present a kind of history of the cello as it was played in Italy. That has to be taken with a grain of salt: Geminiani was an Italian composer, but worked most of his life in England, and his sonatas op. 5 were published in Paris. Vivaldi composed some of his cello sonatas for a German amateur cellist.
Dieltiens' journey starts with Domenico Gabrielli, the first composer in history to write music specifically for the instrument we now know as the cello. He had the nickname Minghino dal violoncello, 'minghino' being the diminutive of Domenico. He was born in Bologna and studied the cello with Petronio Franceschini, whom he succeeded as cellist in the basilica San Petronio after his teacher's death in 1680. He composed vocal works as well as instrumental music. His main importance from a historical point of view is his contribution to the development of the cello as a common instrument. His oeuvre of pieces for his instrument is small but he also gave it parts in some sacred compositions as well as in his sonatas for trumpets and strings. His seven Ricercari were never printed and were probably written for pedagogical purposes. These ricercari, the Canon for two cellos and two sonatas for cello and basso continuo constitute his complete extant output for the cello.
It is strange that the first disc is entitled "The Beginnings" as the compositions by Benedetto Marcello, Giovanni Bononcini and Willem de Fesch were written at a time when the cello had already established itself. Bononcini was the only cellist among these three masters but his oeuvre for the instrument is very small. In fact, the Sonata in a minor is his only extant cello piece; it was included in a collection of six sonatas for two cellos by various composers, published in 1748. Marcello was a dilettante and was educated as a singer. De Fesch was a Dutch violinist who made a career in England. The Sonata in d minor is attributed to Alessandro Scarlatti, but its authenticity cannot be established.
The pieces by De Fesch and Bononcini date from about the same time as the sonatas by Vivaldi and Geminiani which are included on the second disc. Vivaldi composed a large number of cello concertos and gave the instrument prominent roles in concertos for various instruments. The catalogue of his works includes only nine pieces for cello and basso continuo. It is quite possible that he wrote more and some of his works have been lost. Vivaldi didn't bother to publish his cello sonatas. Six of them were published in Paris by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc in the late 1730s. It is likely this happened without Vivaldi's knowledge. The publisher tried to exploit the popularity of the cello in France at the time, and simply put together six sonatas which were circulating in manuscript. Some sonatas may originally have been written for the pupils of the Ospedale della Pietā in Venice. Others were the result of commissions by dilettantes, mostly aristocrats. One of them could have been Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, for whom Giovanni Benedetto Platti also composed a considerable number of pieces. The Sonatas in g minor (RV 42) and in B flat (RV 46) are included in the library of the Counts of Schönborn-Wiesentheid.
The popularity of the cello in France may also have been the reason that Geminiani in 1746 published his op. 5 in Paris. France had long resisted the influence of Italian music, but around 1700 more and more composers began to embrace the Italian style aiming at a mixture of French and Italian elements. In time the Italian style overshadowed the French taste. That came especially to the fore in the decline of the viola da gamba - symbol of everything French - in favour of the Italian cello. It is not known whether Geminiani had a specific cellist in mind when he composed his six sonatas. They contain some influences of the French style. A striking example is the second section of the last movement of the Sonata No 6. It is in slow tempo, and very much reminds me of the French tombeau. Geminiani's sonatas are remarkable for their marked rhythmic structure. In this respect they are quite different from Vivaldi's sonatas in which melody is one of the main elements.
Both aspects are perfectly conveyed by Roel Dieltiens. He produces a beautiful singing tone in Vivaldi and there is no lack of expression in the slow movements in both Vivaldi and Geminiani. The rhythms in the latter's fast movements come off through strong dynamic accents and differentiated articulation. The sonatas by both composers - and especially Vivaldi - are available in various complete recordings. Even so the reissue of this recording of 1991 is most welcome. Dieltiens delivers much better performances here than in his recording of 2009 (Et'cetera) which is marred by all sorts of inappropriate improvisations (review). The first disc also has some competition as far as Gabrielli is concerned but overall the music on the programme here is far less known. Again Dieltiens is totally convincing in his interpretations. The improvisational features of the ricercares can't be overlooked, and these are well exposed here. Richte van der Meer is Dieltiens' equal in the pieces for two cellos.
The liner-notes are not always clearly intelligible, probably the effect of the translations from the Italian originals. It is rather odd that the back insert of this set lists the pieces by Domenico Gabrielli as two sonatas, lasting 30:05 and 11:06 respectively. I have corrected that in my header.
Cello aficionados will be happy to see that these two recordings have been reissued.
Contents Domenico GABRIELLI (1659-1690)
Sonata in g minor [5:43]
Ricercar I in G [2:05]
Ricercar II in A [8:18]
Canon ā due violoncelli, uno entra una battuta doppo l'altro in D [2:15]
Ricercar VII in D [5:25]
Ricercar VI in G [3:22]
Ricercar III in D [3:21]
Sonata in A [5:20]
Ricercar IV in E flat [4:07]
Ricercar V in C [1:44] Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739)
Sonata in g minor, op. 2,4 [5:56] Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Sonata for two cellos in a minor [8:39] Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725) (attr)
Sonata in d minor [3:56] Willem DE FESCH (1687-1761)
Sonata in a minor, op. 13,6 [5:53] Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata in e minor (RV 40) [13:22] Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Sonata in a minor, op. 5,6 [8:48] Antonio VIVALDI
Sonata in B flat (RV 46) [11:53] Francesco GEMINIANI
Sonata in C, op. 5,3 [12:24]
Sonata in d minor, op. 5,2 [11:29] Antonio VIVALDI
Sonata in g minor (RV 42) [12:28]