Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pretty good music, and sweet

"If you can't find it at Ralph's, you can probably get along (pretty good) without it." - the motto of Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, in Garrison Keillor's News from Lake Wobegon

There used to be lots of white space in our musical maps of the past, especially in those covering the period before Haydn and Mozart. We paid attention to Bach, Handel, Rameau, Lully, and a handful of Italians: Corelli, Albinoni, Vivaldi. Now niche recording companies are filling in the blanks and providing context for the better known names. These might be students or teachers of the greats; and that may be the case here. According to Alessandro Lattanzi's fine liner essay, Gentili was "allegedly one of Vivaldi's teachers." But unless we're just playing connect-the-dots, the music itself has to have some intrinsic merit.

This new disc from Brilliant Classics introduced me to a name that was completely new to me: Giorgio (called "Giorgietto", so I think of him as Little Georgie) Gentili, who lived from about 1669 to 1730. I was able to track down one other piece by Gentili on disc, a concerto on the 2000 Warner disc Zeit Für Venedig by Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca. Now we have this two-disc set (not terribly full; there's only 83 minutes of music altogether) with Soavi Affetti playing all 12 of Gentili's op. 1 Trio Sonatas. Have they uncovered a great new master?

Hope springs eternal, but in a word, no. The liner notes, where one expects lots of special pleading, become the witness for the prosecution:
Some undeniable deficiencies of his Op.1—above all, the lack of artistic individuality—have drawn unfairly harsh scholarly criticism, and the rejection of the collection in its entirety seems ungenerous. As a melodist, Gentili is admittedly less gifted than a Caldara or an Albinoni, and the melodic flow is inhibited by ubiquitous chains of suspensions. Lyrical flashes, pleasant as they may be, are rare,  and so are expressive harmonies, which were a strong point of the older Venetian masters.
I do feel that there's lots of variety here, and that's a tribute to both the performers and the composer. Soavi Affetti use both organ and harpsichord in the continuo, which is helpful, and they keep things moving along briskly, with special attention to Gentili's rhythmic invention. Gentili does his part by providing Corelli standard-issue music but also hearkening back to older music: the 17th century sonata concertata. This antique sound can be very appealing. As well, he often inserts flourishes of solo music for the solo violin, which provides a bit of a concertante feeling. I enjoy his slow movements, which provide a pleasing, sweet sound that lingers for a while. This music won't change your life, but it should provide some pleasure.

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