Vitali: Sonate da camera op. 14, 1692

Italico Splendore
Tactus TC 632202

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Part of Italico Splendore’s projected exploration of the music of Giovanni Vitali, this CD presents a further insight into music-making at the Este Court in Modena in the late 17th century. Although these ‘Chamber Sonatas for two violins and violone’ date from later in the composer’s career than the Sonatas for Two Violins of 1682, they are essentially suites of short dance movements and have a curious archaic quality which links them closely to the Renaissance dance collections of the previous century. Perhaps taking these as a starting point, Italico Splendore take a radical approach to instrumentation, involving a small chamber orchestra of violins, recorders, oboe and bassoon as well as archlute/theorbo/baroque guitar, harpsichord and percussion. The resulting performances are charming and utterly convincing – I have no doubt that the 17th-century Este Court would have been easily able to field a small band like this, either for chamber concerts or even for dancing. In his programme notes, Mical Vitali makes the interesting suggestion that the surviving scores ‘for two violins and violone’ may have served as a sort of shorthand simply to record the dances, allowing performers to ‘reconstitute’ or ‘expand’ them for larger forces if those were available, a practice which may have been much more widespread than we readily accept nowadays. Even among professional players at court, the availability or unavailability of certain players would not have prevented performances taking place, while the presence of touring musicians would surely have been seen as a golden opportunity to expand the forces used in a performance.

D. James Ross