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Mauro D’ALAY (1687-1757)
12 Violin Concertos Op 1 (1725)
Concerto No 1 in A major [10:07]
Concerto No 2 in E flat major [10:26]
Concerto No 3 in G major [6:23]
Concerto No 4 in F major for two violins [7:07]
Concerto No 5 in D major for two violins [7:34]
Concerto No 6 in B flat major [4:03]
Concerto No 7 in A major [9:00]
Concerto No 8 in F major [9:11]
Concerto No 9 in B minor for two violins [7:27]
Concerto No 10 in C minor [9:22]
Concerto No 11 in A major [14:14]
Concerto No 12 in G minor [10:30]
Luca Fanfoni (violin)
Daniele Fanfoni (violin 2)
Reale Concerto
Rec. 27 & 28 May 2020, Chiesa di San Silvestro, Scipione Castello, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS7892.02 [45:45 + 59:42]

Another candidate for the ‘not much is known about the life of’ collection, Mauro D’Alay was a contemporary of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel but his name didn’t have the staying power to keep his music in the public eye after his death. He was well known in his day as a violinist, and like many renowned musicians moved around Europe, making the best of his opportunities and acquiring “a virtuous circle that would give him prosperity, fortune, and that bit of pride deriving from a natural sense of social redemption.” Giuseppe Martini’s booklet notes certainly deliver more detail on D’Alay’s life and work than seems to be available online, and the conclusion on these concertos is that they “are the ideal periscope through which one can observe an 18th-century music still in search of further definition.”

One of the main stylistic references to these works is that of Vivaldi, whose solo concerti were well established in the first decades of the 18th century. You probably wouldn’t mistake D’Alay’s Op 1 for the composer of The Four Seasons, but the primacy of the soloist against tutti strings and the virtuoso nature of the solo part, along with shared compositional characteristics and stylistic gestures that compare with examples from Venice can all be heard. Influences from Spain, France and England can also be traced, as well as the ubiquitous presence of Corelli.

This eclectic mix leaves us with a collection of concertos that occupy a strange no-man’s land that is no longer entirely Baroque, but is more old-fashioned than the galant style that was taking hold even as these pieces were being printed in Amsterdam. The music is enjoyable to hear but is alas not particularly memorable, and even under some spectacular violin writing you get the feeling that too many old conventions are being observed to create much of a stir. The Concerto No 10 in C minor is however deserving of mention, the director here apparently observing the antique conductor’s technique of banging a stick to keep the beat, and thereby emphasising the rhythm of the first and third movements with a kind of ominous bass drum effect. There is a fascinating moment early in the central movement of the Concerto No 11 in which the entry of the organ made me think of the arrival of a steamboat. This concerto as a whole is a noble exception, but unexpected harmonic cornering elsewhere is often more of the ‘?’ than the ‘wow’ type, and while there is always fun to be had and a fascination that is generated with this kind of oddness I can’t help feeling there was a fair reason for D’Alay’s oblivion for the last two and a half centuries.

Recorded amidst a rich acoustic bloom of resonance, these performances ‘get the job done’ but are not the last word in refinement. Soloist Luca Fanfoni is a skilled player with a silvery tone, but some of D’Alay’s more extrovert passages push him close to the limit, and there are one or two scratchy and scribbly moments along the way. Discoveries and ventures of this kind deserve applause, and I am glad to have made the acquaintance of Mauro D’Alay. This set of concertos deserves more than one listen, and perhaps more than one recording.

Dominy Clements



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