Saturday, July 29, 2017

Violinist Fabrizio Longo (Italy) and Opera Qvinta in a recent recording of works by Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli

Fabrizio Longo (photo: Alessandro Ruggeri)
A new disc recorded by Opera Qvinto, led and directed by violinist and musicologist Fabrizio Longo, has brought to light more of the restricted surviving oeuvre of Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, namely the “Sonate, Roma 1669”. The little that is known of the enigmatic violinist and composer, who was born in Tuscany in 1624 and died either in Madrid or Rome in 1687, is that he received his training in the chapel of San Marco, Venice, then from 1660 to 1669 serving as one of the chamber virtuosos at the court of Anna de’ Medici in Innsbruck. His surviving opuses 3 and 4 date from 1660, their brilliant writing finding its notable place at the beginning of the first great and influential Italian and Austrian schools of violin-playing. Some recordings of these two opuses exist. The 1669 Trio Sonatas, (Sonate Cio Balletti), bearing no opus number however, have received less attention. In 1978, Willi Apel was perhaps the first to note that these sonatas had remained almost completely unnoticed by modern scholars and performers. In his liner notes, Fabrizio Longo, an authoritative scholar of Pandolfi Mealli and his music, we learn of the dramatic events of the composer’s life: that he was later employed in the Cathedral Chapel of Messina (Sicily). It was there in the Duomo that the composer-priest murdered the Roman castrato Giovanni Marquett, consequently fleeing to France, and finally settling in Spain, where he was employed in the court of the Spanish Habsburgs. All of Pandolfi Mealli’s surviving works are preserved in the Civic Museum of Bologna.

The 1669  Sonatas were published in Rome by Amadeo Belmonte. The title page defines them as “Sonate cioé Balletti, Sarabande, Correnti, Passacagli, Capriccetti, e una Trombetta, a uno, e dui Violini, con la terza parte della Viola a Beneplacito”. they are generally associated with Messina, as the title page lists Pandolfi Mealli as a violinist in that city and also due to the fact that the sonatas are dedicated to eighteen musicians (as was his practice in opuses 3 and 4) who were known to have been employed at the Messina Cathedral. Longo mentions an anonymous and decidedly witty pasquinade (satire written and posted in a public place) appearing in Messina in 1666 that alludes to the persons inspiring each of the pieces, most of which are in the form of suites.

Take, for example, “Il Cara Capriccetto Quinto”. In Longo’s liner notes, we learn that this work refers to Placido Cara, to whom it was suggested that he abandon orchestra direction and return to his own playing. The small, well balanced suite opens with a noble processional, the imposing presence of the bass drum adding to its grandeur. The following Corrente, its dotted agenda rich in echoes and asides, is not taken at breakneck pace. Tambourine jingles add to its skipping, dance-like charm. The work concludes with a Sarabanda, its smooth, serious course devoid of percussion, offering the listener a deeper glimpse into its subtle timbral variety. The advice offered to singer Pietro Maurizio, the artist inspiring ”Il Maruritio, Capricett à violino solo”, was that, despite being complimented on his voice, he should avoid forays into its higher registers, lest his fate be that of Icarus! Here, we hear Fabrizio Longo soloing in the four miniature movements, his playing personal, flexed and spontaneous. Each movement emerges as a separate vignette, from the thoughtful playing of the Largo, to the Presto variations, to the semplice melody from which the Allegro unfolds, to the notes inégales infusing energy into the final movement.A curious connection to the composer’s own life events is the exquisite suite titled “Il Marquetto”, the work associated with the counter tenor whose life Pandolfi Mealli would take, its solemn, downhearted opening Adagio to a ground accompanied by the funereal sounds of the bass drum, followed by a plaintive, cantabile Arietta most sensitively played and ornamented. Impatient to make its entrance, the ensuing Brando (Italian version of the bransle), festooned with percussion, speaks of energy and ebullience.

A painful episode of Sicily’s history, the conflicts arising from Spanish presence, present in much art of the time, is referred to in “La Spata Fora”, a work dedicated to Prince Spatafora but also possibly to a trumpeter in the chapel by the name of Spatafora. Here, straightforward functional harmonies give rise to plangent melodies, contrasted by intense drum utterances and a sense of urgency, calling to mind the source of the suite.  Another point of interest in the disc is the instrumentation chosen by Longo. In addition to strings, theorbo, harpsichord and drum, he makes a point of engaging the traditional instrumental variety of Messina of the 1660s, for example, in the two “La Domenga” Sarabands: in the first, there is substantial use of the Jew’s harp, common in Sicilian folk music and referred to there as the "marranzanu"; in the second, the triple flute is played in its characteristic folk style.

Recorded on period instruments for the TACTUS label (2017), these mid-Baroque works, although influenced by the “stylus fantasticus”, are presented in balanced, suave, sensitive and articulate playing, its virtuosity employed as a means of expression.  Each small gem is delivered within its own context. Fabrizio Longo’s liner notes provide much valuable information on Pandolfi Mealli and his extraordinary music.


No comments: