Castello & Co
Venetian sonatas for winds and strings from the 17th century
Giovanni Antonio BERTOLI (1598-c1645): Sonata VIII per fagotto solo ;
Dario CASTELLO (c1590-c1658): Sonata IV à 2 ; Sonata VI à 2 ; Sonata VIII à 2 ; Sonata XI à 3 ; Sonata XII à 3 ; Sonata XIII à 4 ; Sonata XIV à 4 ; Sonata XV à 4 ;
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Messa degli Apostoli (Recercar cromaticho post il Credo) ;
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Sonata VIII per 2 Fagotti o Tromboni ; Sonata IX per 2 Fagotti o Tromboni ;
Giovanni PICCHI (c1571-1643): Sonata à 2 ;
Giuseppe SCARANI (fl 1628-1641): Sonata XIII à 3 
 Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno … libro primo, 1621;
 Giovanni Picchi, Canzoni da sonar, 1625;
 Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie … e retornelli, op. 8, 1626;
 Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno … libro secondo, 1629;
 Giuseppe Scarani, Sonate concertate, op. 1, 1630;
 Girolamo Frescobaldi, Fiori musicali, 1635;
 Giovanni Antonio Bertoli, Compositioni musicali fatte per sonare col fagotto solo, 1645
Adam Woolf, sackbut;
Wouter Verschueren, dulcian;
Kathryn Cok, harpsichord, organ
Jamie Savan, cornett;
Bjarte Eike, Aira Maria Lehtipuu, violin
Challenge Classics CC72547
enice played a leading role in music in the 16th and 17th centuries. For this reason it is no challenge to put together a programme with music which in one way or another can be linked to Venice. Most composers who are included in the programme of this disc have worked there for some time. The exceptions are Girolamo Frescobaldi and Giovanni Antonio Bertoli. The latter can only be linked to Venice because his single collection of instrumental music was printed there in 1645.
The central figure is Dario Castello who was the director of the wind ensemble of San Marco, but that is as much as we know about him. Two collections of instrumental music were printed in 1621 and 1629 respectively, both in Venice, comprising 29 sonatas in total. They bear witness to two features of instrumental writing in northern Italy in the early 17th century. Firstly, the instrumental parts are quite virtuosic and certainly not suited to amateurs. This is music for professional players of the kind who worked at San Marco and in the chapels of aristocrats. Secondly they consist of sequences of passages of a strongly contrasting character. It was here that the foundations of the stylus phantasticus were laid which would have such a lasting influence in northern Germany, in particular in the organ music of that region.
Castello wasn't the only one who composed virtuosic instrumental works. Biagio Marini was his colleague at San Marco, working there as a violinist. He stayed only five years, from 1615 to 1620, and then moved to Brescia. In the next years he travelled a lot and worked at several places, including Parma, Düsseldorf and Milan. Fifteen collections of his music have been preserved, with the opus numbers 1 to 22 which means that a considerable part has been lost. The two sonatas on this disc are from his op. 8, which was printed in 1626.
Another collegue of Castello was Giuseppe Scarani, who was educated as a singer and an organist. After acting in the latter capacity in Mantua he was a singer at San Marco from 1629 to 1641. The largest part of his relatively small output consists of vocal music. The Sonata XIII is from his only collection of instrumental music. It is full of chromatic passages which is a feature of his instrumental works.
Giovanni Picchi was also educated as an organist; he played the lute as well. He worked as organist in several Venetian churches, but his attempt to become second organist of San Marco in 1624 was to no avail. His main collection of music is for keyboard, the Intavolatura di balli. A toccata was included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The Sonata à 2 is taken from his only other publication, the Canzoni da sonar, printed in Venice in 1625.
The probably least-known of the composers on this disc is Giovanni Antonio Bertoli, who was a player of the dulcian by profession. He worked for a short while in Verona, but his whereabouts after that are unclear. He himself declared that he had been in the service of Emperor Ferdinand III. His Compositioni musicali of 1645 is the first collection of sonatas for the dulcian, and also the very first collection in history which comprises exclusively solo sonatas for one single instrument. As they are technically demanding one may assume they reflect his own skills.
The track-list mentions the scoring of the sonatas. That is the scoring in this recording, which is not necessarily the scoring given by the composers. Castello's Sonata XV, for instance, is scored for strings in the original printing, but performed here with violin, cornett, sackbut and dulcian. This is perfectly legitimate: it is likely that the composers used their indications of the instruments often as mere suggestions. It is a shame that this whole issue isn't addressed in the liner-notes. In many cases the composers left it to the performers to choose the instruments. The Sonata VIII by Castello has the indication sopran e fagotto. The treble part is played here by the sackbut. In other cases the composers offered various options, such as Marini in his two sonatas on this disc, which are for doi Fagotti, o Tromboni Grossi. Here they are performed with sackbut and dulcian.
The most virtuosic sonatas are those for one or two solo instruments. In the latter we find passages with imitation, sometimes in the form of an echo (Castello, Sonata XII), and episodes where both instruments play unisono. Castello's Sonata VIII includes two long and virtuosic solo episodes for either instrument. The sonatas for three and four instruments are rather ensemble pieces with only now and then short solo passages.
It isn't just the virtuosic writing for the various instruments which make this repertoire so exciting, even though it offers the interpreter opportunities to show his technical prowess. It is especially the stylus phantasticus which keeps the listener on his toes. Every single piece is full of contrasts, thanks to the rather quick alternation of various affetti and tempi. Moreover composers used harmony for expressive reasons.
Caecilia-Concert is a specialist in this repertoire. Originally consisting of sackbut, dulcian and keyboard they usually invite colleagues to play with them, and with the two violinists and the cornettist on this disc they have made an excellent choice. The result is an exciting disc full of surprises. One can only admire the technical capabilities of the three wind players whose instruments are among the hardest-to-play.
Johan van Veen, 29 October 2012