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Mandolino e Violino in Italia
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in B flat (RV 548/764) [09:18]
Trio in G minor (RV 85) [10:01]
Carlo ARRIGONI (1697-1744)
Trio in E minor [07:30]
Concerto in C [06:01]
Ranieri CAPPONI (c1680-c1744)
Sonata VIII in E minor [11:34]
Trio in C (RV 82) [10:47]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Concerto in G [05:50]
Anna Torge (mandolin), Mayumi Hirasaki (violin), Il cantino
rec. 2015, Chamber music hall of Deutschlandfunk, Cologne
CPO 555 050-2 [61:34]

The mandolin has played an important role in Western music since the Renaissance. One would not guess on the basis of modern performance practice, as today - even in our time of historical performance practice - its role is marginal, both in ensemble and as a solo instrument. Over many years of attending concerts, I have never seen it played. The number of discs devoted to music for the mandolin is also rather limited, although in recent years several productions have landed on my desk.

The first time the instrument makes its appearance is the late 16th century. It was called mandola; about half a century later its diminutive mandolino turns up. These two terms were used simultaneously until well into the 18th century. The instrument was also known under names such as liutino or liuto soprano. This indicates that the mandolin is derived from the lute.

The latter is especially relevant in regard to the pieces by Vivaldi, which are part of the programme recorded by Anna Torge, Mayumi Hirasaki and the ensemble Il Canto. In Peter Ryom's catalogue of Vivaldi’s works, the trios RV 82 and 85 are included with the scoring for lute, violin and basso continuo. The original titles refer to leuto and Marga Wilden Hüsgen, in her liner-notes, states that this term may refer to the small lute. This allows for a performance with the mandolin, as is the case here. These two pieces rank among Vivaldi's most popular, and they are available in many recordings on the lute. The present disc offers a nice and meaningful alternative.

At first sight the Concerto in B flat has nothing to do with the mandolin. It appears in the Ryom catalogue under two different numbers because of the alternative scorings: RV 548 is for oboe and violin, RV 764 for two violins. Here the first part is played on the mandolin, and this may be the scoring as it was originally intended. "In the autographic title the assignment to the mandolin is barely visible under the new title indicating the oboe. The circumstances of this changed instrumentation remain unclear", Marga Wilden Hüsgen writes.

The two other Italian composers are largely unknown quantities. They are both from Florence. Carlo Arrigoni was educated at the lute and the theorbo; he also played the violin and probably the mandolin as well. He was a member of the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna. In the 1730s his presence in London is documented. The list of his works in New Grove includes three sonatas and one concerto for mandolin. The Trio in E minor is in four movements; the first has no title and has the character of a a prelude, with the mandolin playing arpeggios. The last movement also omits a title, but is in fact a minuet. The Concerto in C is in three movements. The slow movement is for mandolin and basso continuo; here the violins keep silent. In the closing movement they play unisono.

Little is known about Abate Ranieri Capponi, who was from a noble Florentine family; his activities as a teacher of music are documented. His only compositions were published posthumously in 1744 by his brother: twelve sonatas for various instruments and basso continuo. The four instruments engraved on the title page probably indicates the scorings he had in mind: the violin, the mandolin, the transverse flute and the double bass. The latter represents the basso continuo. According to Marga Wilden Hüsgen, the mandolin is the most obvious choice: "The fact is that only a Baroque mandolin with a fourth-third tuning can render the original text in its entirety." The Sonata VIII in E minor is in four movements, following the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. The slow movements are quite expressive, which demonstrates that the mandolin is more than just an instrument for entertainment. The two fast movements are fugal.

The programme ends with the only non-Italian piece, written by Johann Adolf Hasse, who in the mid-18th century was the most celebrated opera composer in Europe. Instrumental music does not take a very prominent place in his oeuvre. Most of his solo concertos are for the transverse flute, the most popular instrument among amateurs in his time. The Concerto in G seems to be Hasse's only composition for the mandolin, although he did include obbligato mandolin parts in two vocal works. He almost certainly did not play the instrument himself, but that did not prevent him from composing a concerto which does explore the instrument's features.

It brings to a close a most interesting recital of pieces for the mandolin, which are well up to repeated listening. As I wrote, the two trios by Vivaldi are interesting alternatives to performances on the lute. In this recording the larghetto from the Trio in G minor is particularly beautiful. The Concerto in B flat is probably also performed here for the first time with a mandolin. Arrigoni's Trio in E minor has a very nice third movement, and I already mentioned the slow movements from Capponi's sonata. The collection from which it is taken, seems an interesting work, which deserves to be further explored.

I have nothing but praise for the performances. Anna Torge and Mayumi Hirasaki deliver truly speechlike interpretations, with a good articulation and effective dynamic shading. The fast movements are played with energy and aplomb. The ensemble is also excellent. One doesn't need to have a special liking of the mandolin to thoroughly enjoy this disc.

Johan van Veen

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