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The cello sonatas by Vivaldi which are most familiar to modern audiences are six published in Paris around 1740. There are, however, three others preserved in manuscript of which two, in A minor (RV39) and G minor (RV42) are included here. The remaining four in Marco Ceccato’s recital belong to the set of six already mentioned. A difficulty facing a cellist who is offered a single CD is which sonatas to omit. Ceccato has chosen prudently to omit those in keys that duplicate those already represented in his programme.

Vivaldi’s cello sonatas are richly rewarding pieces in which the composer, as so often, reveals his gift for expressive ‘cantabile’. At the same time we must revel in his intuitive understanding of the lyrical possibilities afforded by the cello. That is hardly surprising since Vivaldi, one of the greatest violin virtuosos of his time understood strings through and through.

Ceccato’s playing is technically accomplished and responsive to the music’s poetry and its fulsome character. In the faster movements of the F major Sonata (RV41) their playful and angular gestures perhaps call to mind a carnival figure. Such movements provide striking contrast with the melancholy Sarabande of the G minor Sonata (RV42) or the two- strand contrapuntal writing of the Largo of the Sonata in B flat (RV46). Nowhere does Vivaldi more alluringly beguile our senses than in the third movement Largo of the E minor Sonata (RV40), the best- known of the cello sonatas.

In the rhythm of a siciliano its tenderly expressed lyricism suffused with melancholy is eloquently sustained. Ceccato’s varied continuo includes harpsichord, theorbo, guitar, cello, double bass and an organ which is carelessly omitted from all documentation.

Unlike Marco Ceccato, Francesco Galligioni plays only the six sonatas included in the Paris publication of c.1740. Small differences between the printed edition and the manuscript held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris have been taken into account. Galligioni’s continuo group is marginally less varied than the other, consisting of a violone, lute, harpsichord or chamber organ. Galligioni himself is a sensitive player responsive to the myriad expressive nuances present in these excellent sonatas. In many respects he is Ceccato’s equal but where he is marginally less dependable is in matters of intonation.

It is only an intermittent problem but in movements such as the first allegro of the F major Sonata, RV41 he does not always find the centre of his notes. I was not convinced either by some of the ornaments chosen both by Galligioni and his harpsichord continuo. What struck my ears as a particularly anachronistic realization occurs at the end of the second largo of the same sonata. For a moment I thought I was listening to the tinkling of a Louis XV clock. Elsewhere Galligioni interrupts playing of undeniable eloquence with exaggerated, even on occasion aggressive bowing. Ending on a positive note, there are pleasing aspects to these readings especially in slow movements even if when faced with a choice I must commend Ceccato’s disc as the stronger of the two.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing