Leone: 6 sonates pour mandoline et basse continue – Livre 1 (1767)

Ensemble Spirituoso (Florentino Calvo baroque mandolin, Maria Lucia Barros harpsichord, Philippe Foulon “viole d’Orphée” and “violoncelle d’amour“, Leonardo Loredo de Sá baroque guitar, Ana Yépes castanets)
No total timing given
Arion PV715011

The modern 4-course Neapolitan mandoline, tuned in fifths like a violin, with metal strings and played with a quill or plectrum, has its origins in the 1740s. Little is known about Gabriele Leone (c. 1725-c.1790), who was one of the earliest virtuosi for that instrument. There is even some confusion with regard to his first name: he referred to himself only as Signor Leoni de Naples. His music was published in London and Paris, where he performed to much acclaim in the 1760s.

The six sonatas from Leone’s Livre 1, are in the gallant or rococo style, mostly cheerful, though with frequent changes of mood, unexpected shifts of harmony and chromaticism, brief switches to triplets, crushed notes (track 16) and so on, which would catch many an inattentive ear. The second movement of the first sonata (larghetto) has a passage of heavy bass notes and ends after a solo cadenza; the third movement (presto en rondeau) begins with a delicate passage with the mandoline alone, before perking up with the rondeau theme, when the harpsichord and bass jump in; the music switches twice to D minor, the second time with much accelerando. In tracks 9, 12 and 18 the the group is augmented with Leonardo Loredo de Sá adding rhythmic punch as he strums his baroque guitar, and in tracks 9 and 12 with Ana Yepes, who clops away on her castanets.

One interesting aspect of this CD is the contribution of Philippe Foulon, who has collaborated with others to reconstruct little-known, obsolete bowed instruments from the 18th century. On this CD he plays the viole d’Orphée (described by Michel Corrette in 1781) and the violoncelle d’amour (otherwise known as the violoncello all’inglese). Unfortunately it is not clear from the liner notes which instrument he is playing at any one time.

All the musicians play well, in particular the mandolinist Florentino Calvo, who is impressive throughout, yet there is something unsettling in the overall sound. The instruments do not seem to blend well, and the balance is not always good. Foulon’s two bass instruments and Maria Lucia Barros’ harpsichord are sometimes too loud for the softer mandoline. Barros adds much melodic material with her right hand, but what can enhance the mandoline one minute, can also appear to compete with it the next. Despite these cavils, this is an entertaining CD, which gives a welcome insight into Leone’s popular concerts in Paris.

Stewart McCoy