An Italian Sojourn
In "A Personal Note" in the booklet accompanying this "Italian Sojourn," Rachel Barton Pine describes the formation of her Trio Settecento ("1700s Trio," though they dip well back into the 1600s) with the two Chicago colleagues who had accompanied her CD of Handel's Violin Sonatas back in 1996. Back then she used a modernized 1617 Amati violin and modern vibrato with otherwise "historically informed" style; for the new CD she plays a 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin in original condition and loses the vibrato, in line with contemporary performance of baroque music. (It would doubtless be enlightening to compare her performance of a Handel sonata on the new disc with her 1996 rendition on Cedille 90000 032, but I don't have the older CD at hand.) The new disc is the first of a projected series that will visit Germany, France and Britain in turn.
An Italian Sojourn dwells mainly in Venice and Rome in its choice of eight works that illustrate the development of the Italian baroque violin sonata and performance practice. (Handel gets to join the club because in fact he did join a Roman club of sorts, the Academy of the Arcadians, as a youthful sojourner.) In most of these works the violin is very much the star, with harpsichord and cello as continuo; exceptions include the three opening works, by Castello, Stradella and Marini, in which the cello is a true partner. Pine's accompanists are not overly discreet: the three play with excellent rapport, bringing dance-like vigor or refined sentiment to each movement. Cedille's fine recording does seem to favor the violin a little over the cello and harpsichord, at least on my system, unless this is indeed a matter of the players' discretion.
Perhaps I should say the development of the violin sonata could be illustrated if the CD arranged the pieces in order of composition or publication, rather than in the looser order chosen I assume for entertaining contrast. We cover a number of generations from Castello (active in the 1620s and ‘30s) to Corelli (whose seminal Opus 5 book of violin sonatas was published in 1700) to the generation born in the 1680s and ‘90s of Handel, Tartini, Locatelli and the less well knownVeracini. My one disappointment in regard toCedille's excellent production is its paucity of booklet information on the dates of composition — or indeed, on the distinctive features of each piece, with the exceptions of commentaries on Tartini's participation in the tradition of the "pastoral" sonata and on the Veracini sonata's inclusion of both a passacaglia and a chaconne.
Still, cellist John Mark Rozendaal's booklet essay is very good reading. He provides extensive quotations from Charles Burney (1789) to show how admired and influential Corelli was as a performer, teacher and composer for the violin. (In fact, Rozendaal points out, Pine's violin instructor came from a line that can be traced directly back to Ysaye, Vieuxtemps, and ultimately to Corelli himself!) I was also fascinated by Rozendaal's suggestion of the Influence of Islamic art on the development of Venetian musical patterns: "In a Persian carpet or Turkish tile decoration one finds abstract motifs repeated, varied, developed, and placed in a coherent structure... and main themes developed by repetition, fragmentation, and variation, and punctuated by episodes. Does this not describe precisely the concerto format [which Bach learned from Vivaldi]" or the cascades of musical filigree in the works at hand? He imagines the Marini and Castello sonatas — the earliest works on the program, still single-movement pieces with frequent alternation of slow and fast sections — played in "a palazzo on the Grand Canal, replete with ornate window traceries, vessels of damascene and draperies of damask from Damascus, gilded icons from Byzantium… and of course carpets from Persia and Turkey."
Listeners will doubtless have favorites among the pieces and performances on the CD's 70-minute program. I was especially taken by the energetic syncopations of the Allegro of Locatelli's sonata; the headlong forward sweep of the Allegros in the Corelli; and the confident stride (not quite a swagger) of Handel's opening Larghetto. The Veracini is one of the most striking works as a dramatic whole on this program. I did find the opening largo Passagallo (i.e., passacaglia) interesting not so much as a "tragic lament" (as Rozendaal calls it) but as an exciting abstract play of the violin's variations on the ground bass. The allegro Capriccio Cromatico that follows is a fugue featuring a theme with descending chromatic notes (rising in the cello). It is followed in turn by an Adagio (this does seem lamenting) that leads directly into the finale, an allegro Ciaccona (chaconne), like the passacaglia a 3-beat pattern with variations but in this case more brisk and dance-like. Rozendaal notes that the work concludes with "a cruel surprise return to the anguished passacaglia," but since the slow passacaglia tune is now played in the fast chaconne tempo and the violin proceeds to shower it with new embellishments, I wonder if the ending is more of a joyful transformation. In any case, as abstract music brilliantly played by the trio, it is a very satisfactory ending to the program.