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BENEDETTO MARCELLO (1686 - 1739)

Al cielo Duetti da camera (1)

Ah che non può più vivere, duetto
Ahi quanto è fiero, duetto
Al cielo occhi simili ben siete, duetto
Col pensiero vi bacio, duetto
O fortunato quel fiumicello, duetto
Piagarmi non può il cor, duetto
Vaghe calme d'amor, duetto

Sonata II, op. 2, 2
Sonata III
, op. 2, 3
Sonata VI,
op. 2, 6

Silvia Frigato, soprano
Sara Mingardo, contralto
Francesco Galligioni, Carlo Zanardi, viola da gamba
Ensemble “gambe di legno”

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The title of this disc alludes to the vocal duets in the first place, but could also refer to the sonatas for two low string instruments which are interspersing the vocal items. In fact, both genres have various things in common. Both are dominated by counterpoint, and there are many passages in which the two voices imitate each other. The slow sections are often quite expressive, and the vocal duets sometimes follow the form of the trio sonatas, for instance Al cielo occhi simili ben siete which is in four sections.

Benedetto Marcello was a remarkable figure in the musical landscape of his time. Like his contemporary Tomaso Albinoni he was a dilettante, as he called himself. Moreover, he was critical about the musical fashions in his time, especially in regard to ornamentation, which he considered often excessive. In some ways one can see him as a forerunner of the likes of Gluck and Tartini who aimed at more ‘naturalness’ in music. In 1720 he published - anonymously - the treatise Il teatro alla moda in which he sharply criticised the ‘bad habits’ in contemporary theatre.

The seven vocal duets on this disc are part of a collection of 84 which have been preserved in manuscript, and are now part of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. The form of the duet was quite popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This kind of pieces were performed at the courts of aristocrats and in the various academies in Italy. One of the most famous composers of duets was Agostino Steffani.

There is quite some variety in the texture of these duets. I already referred to the form of the trio sonata. Piagarmi non può il cor begins with a dacapo aria, followed by two sections which are not repeated. Col pensiero vi bacio has the traits of a concerto: it is in three sections, with a central episode which has some recitativic traits and a high amount of expression ("Consumed in your presence I'll burn still"). Vaghe calme d'amor is in four sections; the last is a repeat of the first. Ahi quanto è fiero and Ah che non può più vivere have an ABA structure, just like an opera aria. The A section is highly expressive, which in the former cantata is partly due to daring harmonies.

The sonatas follow the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. They are scored for two cellos or two viole da gamba. This is remarkable as in Marcello's time hardly any music for the viola da gamba was written in Italy. In his liner-notes Bernhard Trebuch suggests that the alternative scoring was probably inspired by commercial interests: this set of six sonatas was printed in Amsterdam, and in various countries in Europe the viola da gamba was still in vogue. He could well be right; even so, it is notable how well these sonatas fare on viole da gamba as in this recording. I don't know if any of these sonatas have ever been recorded before, but it seems to me that they are a worthwhile addition to the viola da gamba repertoire. This is very good stuff, and as the title page of this disc bears the addition (1) it is to be hoped that a second disc will include the remaining sonatas from this set.

They are given very fine interpretations by the two gambists of the ensemble who play with engagement and fully explore the expressive features of various movements. Silvia Frigato and Sara Mingardo are equally convincing in the vocal duets. The latter often uses quite a lot of vibrato in live performances and recordings. She doesn't avoid it here, in contrast to Silvia Frigato, but she keeps it more under control and as a result the two voices blend well. The balance between them is mostly satisfying; only here and there Ms Frigato tends to dominate a little. The performances are quite expressive, also thanks to the excellent delivery. The ensemble gives excellent support.

In short, this is an interesting disc in regard to repertoire, and highly enjoyable from a musical point of view. I am looking forward to the second volume.

Johan van Veen, 21 October 2013

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