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The Consort

Ibrahim Azi

Summer 2012

Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli
Sonate da Camera for violin and continuo,
vol.2, sonatas 7-12
ed Michael Talbot
Edition HH, HH281.fsp, Bicester, 2011 (ringbound, £35)
ISMN 1 905779 73 4

Giovanni Battista Vitali
Sonatas op.5 for 2 violins and continuo,
vol.1, sonatas 1-5
ed Martin Perkins
Edition HH, HH293.fsp, Bicester, 2011 (pbk, £17)
ISMN 1 905779 69 7

Johann Sebastian Bach Triple Concerto
in D major (after BWV 1064)
arr Christopher Hogwood for 3 violins, viola (optional) and continuo
Edition HH @BACH, HH266.fsp, Bicester, 2011 (pbk, £30)
ISMN 1 905779 65 9


These are three sets of violin-related material, for 1, 2 and 3 violins, all issued recently by Edition HH. The first is Carbonelli’s Sonate da Camera, a set of solo sonatas for violin and basso continuo published in London in 1729; they are the sole surviving work by this composer. Carbonelli (1666/70-1773) or Carbonell, as he later became known, settled in England around 1720 and found employment as concert master for the orchestra at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane before being engaged by the Duke of Rutland. He made a successful career in London as a violinist and composer and also set himself up as a wine merchant, eventually becoming an official purveyor to the King. Being successful in both his musical and business ventures, he was relatively prosperous at his death, leaving properties and some fine instruments for sale, including two Stainer violins and a Stradivarius. The wine business remained in the family for a further few generations.

Carbonelli was generally highly regarded by his contemporaries and accounts of him were written by Burney, Avison and Hawkins, who claimed that Carbonelli had taken lessons from Corelli in his native Italy. Certainly one can detect traces of Corelli in these sonatas as well as hints of other Italian composers such as Vivaldi, Albinoni and Locatelli, and it is interesting that he also integrated some of the Englishness that he had absorbed from the London musical scene: a gavotte-like movement in one of the sonatas, for instance, resembles an English country dance of the period.

The technical level of these sonatas ranges from the moderately difficult to the virtuosic, although they are never as extreme or ‘controversial in the same way as those of Geminiani and Veracini’. Michael Talbot points out that Carbonelli’s sonatas are of ‘the highest musical level, worthy to stand comparison with the best violin sonatas of Handel or Vivaldi’, and for this reason it is a pity that there are no other works by him in existence; the concertos, sinfonias and songs that we know he composed have not survived.

This edition is supplied with an excellent introduction including a survey of each sonata, detailing editorial procedures and decisions, stylistic and historical issues and also containing a brief discussion on continuo instruments. The basso part is fully figured, and the score includes a realised keyboard part (also with figures), which is meant to be helpful for less experienced or less confident players.

A lesser known Italian composer was the Bolognese violone player Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-92). He held posts in Bologna before working for the Este family in Modena from 1674. He was referred to as Musico di Violone da Brazzo in S. Petronio di Bologna on the title page of his op.5 (this edition, in fact), a player of a bass member of the violin (da brazzo) family, probably a bass violin. Vitali issued 8 collections of music; the present publication dates from 1669 and is entitled Sonate a due, tre, quattro e cinque stromenti; in this edition, only sonatas 1-5 for two violins are included. Each sonata is headed with a dedicatory title to a Bolognese senator, for example La Sessi (Sonata 1) and La Campori (Sonata 2).

This modern edition of the sonatas comes with a part each for the first and second violins, an ‘Organo’ (labelled ‘Basso’ on the part book), and a full score with all three parts. Figures are given in both score and bass part without a keyboard realisation. In contrast to the Carbonelli edition, the introduction here is more concise and dwells less on historical and stylistic issues. It would have interesting to know a little more about the origins of Vitali’s style and the continuo practices of his day, given his own occupation as a violone player.

J S Bach’s transcriptions of Italian concertos for harpsichord are well known today by many. What may not be so obvious is how his ripieno parts are not always consistent with the original: they are often either adapted or otherwise newly added. Bach wrote his transcriptions either for solo keyboard alone, or, in the case of the multiple harpsichord concertos, with orchestral accompaniment. It has long been proposed that the C major concerto for three harpsichords BWV 1064 is a transcription of a lost original Italian concerto, with the ripieno part added when the transcription was made. This edition answers the question, ‘What would happen if we were to reverse the transcription process and deduct the ripieno part to arrive back at the original?’

Using Bach’s concerto for four harpsichords in A minor (originally Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins in B minor from L’Estro Armonico) as a model, Christopher Hogwood has come up with a ‘reconstruction’ of what might have been: a concerto for three violins in D major, with an optional viola part, and continuo.

The result is really an ‘arrangement … made for practical musical purposes for inclusion alongside other repertoire for three violin soloists without ripieno players, Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue being just one example of this popular scoring’. The introduction goes on to explain what else has been done to arrive at the transcription, such as devising the optional viola part and the distribution of the bass instruments.

The result seems fairly convincing, even if the violin parts, despite being relieved of all the keyboard figurations, still appear awkwardly virtuosic: the top violin covers a range of over three octaves. There are no figures in the bass part apart from in the Adagio. The way the basses are distributed seems to indicate the need for a doubling instrument such as a violone; for practical purposes it may be appropriate to have only an 8-foot pitch instrument and harpsichord, with the harpsichord playing only the fundamental basso continuo.

These are excellent editions from Edition HH, which present some fascinating new repertoire.

We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review
Add to shopping basketCarbonelli, Volume 2
Add to shopping basketVitali, Volume 1
Add to shopping basketBach,Triple Concerto

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