The Cello in Baroque Italy

Roel Dieltiens cello, Richte van der Meer cello, Konrad Jung-hänel theorbo, Robert Kohnen hpscd/org
TT
Accent ACC24304
G. B. Bononcini, de Fesch, Domenico Gabrielli, Geminiani, Marcello & Vivaldi

These recordings, made in 1990 and 1991, are attractively packaged, with the two CDs labelled ‘The Beginnings’ and ‘The Flowering’, the latter consisting solely of sonatas by Vivaldi and Geminiani. The pernickety might well query the inclusion of sonatas by Willem DeFesch (op.13 no. 6 in A minor c.1750) and Giovanni Battista Bononcini (Sonata in A minor from the ‘Six Solos for Two Cellos’) under the first disc’s title as being a little perverse. That apart, these are generally stylish performances, accompanied by theorbo, harpsichord and organ. The beginnings of the solo repertoire for the instrument are justly represented in the cello works by Domenico Gabrielli (d. 1690). Although they occupy more than half of Disc 1, taking up 16 tracks, they are confusingly listed as two sonatas on the CD box). In fact these tracks constitute the collection of unaccompanied Ricercari, the canon for 2 cellos as well as the two sonatas with theorbo and cello continuo. The Ricercari were virtuoso works in their time, with much free florid passage work adorned with multiple stopping, and the canon is an interesting piece. A strange feature in Dieltiens’ playing is his use of vibrato on expressive notes, the wideness of which at times sounded similar to the beaten vibrato specifically used in the French repertoire for the bass viol. With the three 18th-century sonatas on Disc 1 (the two mentioned above plus Benedetto Marcello’s Op. 2 no. 4), however, we are on more familiar territory.

The continuo texture chosen for three Vivaldi sonatas (RV 40, 42, 46) on Disc 2 is with organ and double bass, which some may find disconcerting. The three from Geminiani’s op. 5 set (nos 2, 3 and 6), published in 1746, employ the more customary harpsichord and cello continuo. The extremely slow tempi of the movements marked largo was worrying for, as we know, the indication implies a moderate speed, faster than adagio. Some may not like Dieltiens’ persistent spiccato-like style of playing in some of the allegro movements, often found in HIP performances in the 1990s and now more out of fashion. The booklet consists of a good essay on the develop-ment of the cello sonata in Italy with particular reference to the works on the discs, but lacked movement titles and track listings, with no detail on the instruments used in the performances, let alone any biographical information. I am surprised that Accent could not have found room to include at least the basic movement information. Overall I enjoyed Disc 1 more, especially for the rarely recorded Gabrielli pieces.

Ian Graham-Jones