Violino o Cornetto
This recording explores the rise and development of the solo sonata in Italy, the land of its origin. In the early part of the seventeenth century the violin and cornett were considered virtually interchangeable and were equally prized for both their expressive and virtuosic capabilities. Early sonatas were composed with either instrument in mind and many were published with the written instruction “violino o cornetto”. As the century progressed the violin gradually gained supremacy over the cornett and composers, often violinists themselves, wrote in an increasingly idiomatic style for the violin. Uniquely in modern times, Theresa Caudle plays both instruments and with the varied continuo team of her ensemble Canzona produces an abundance of instrumental colours and array of styles in this musical journey through the seventeenth century
"With its interesting and informative notes, its vivid recorded sound, its compelling performances, its embarrassment of textural riches, and its captivating premise, the recital deserves a place in every violin collection."
As the booklet notes by Theresa Caudle and Peter Leech explain in 19 pages of fine detail, Theresa Caudle and Canzona (including Mark Caudle playing bass violin and cello, Alastair Ross playing organ and harpsichord, and David Miller playing chitarrone) provide a 17th-century snapshot of the violin just as it peered out from behind the formerly predominant cornett. Often, the ensemble pairs sonatas, as at the beginning, with the cornett taking the lead in the first of Giovanni Paolo Cima’s sonatas and the violin in the second. In such instances, it’s easy to hear why the titles of the pieces often gave performers a choice (“violino o cornetto”). In fact, though, listening to the two instruments seratim like this strongly suggests the question of why some early period instrumentalists characterized the violin as a pinched, abrasive poor relation of its modern descendent. Theresa Caudle, who plays both cornett and violin on the recording, brings some of the commanding nobility of the cornett in the first Cima sonata to her playing of the second one on violin, although her violin (made by Paul Denley in the style of Giovanni Paolo Maggini) still sounds very reedy compared to her rounded tone on the cornett. Some of the power of the two performances derives from Mark Caudle’s strong-minded characterization of the bass line on bass violin.
The next set pairs two canzonas by Girolamo Frescobaldi from his first book in 1628 of pieces by that title. Theresa Caudle plays the first of these, “La Lucchesina,” on cornett, accompanied by organ and chitarrone, and the second, “La Bernadina,” on violin supported only by harpsichord. Next come two sonatas, this time written by two different composers: the first by Giovanni Battista Fontana (Sonata Prima, 1641), played on cornett, and the second by Dario Castello, performed on violin and organ ( Sonata seconda a soprano solo , 1629). Caudle brings a heady virtuosic sense to Fontana’s work, evidenced in the occasional run, but also a dignified sensitivity, and she engages in intelligent dialogue with David Miller. Although Castello’s sonata doesn’t specify the violin in its title, Caudle’s performance on that instrument makes it seem as though the string instrument has an edge due in part to the sprightliness of her passagework.
The next pair of works begins with violin rather than cornett: Biagio Marini’s Sonata per sonar con due corde from 1626. This sonata, lasting almost nine minutes, represents an early employment of double-stops, a technique that sets the violin apart technically from its wind alternate. Caudle plays it with harpsichord only; the violin’s relative acrobatics perhaps require less support. The second sonata by Marini, from 1655, sounds more solemn, not only in presentation on cornett but also in its musical manner.
Although his Sonata Quinta (1649) may not seem altogether idiomatic to the violin, Marco Uccellini often figured in textbooks on music history (or the history of the violin) for his employment of the instrument’s upper ranges. Arcangelo Corelli, who followed, reined in some of Uccellini’s technical imagination; those who, beginning with Corelli, missed Uccellini and the Germans (Heinrich Franz von Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Johann Jakob Walther) have perhaps taken Corelli as a technical consolidator rather than as a technical reactionary. Caudle pairs Uccellini’s work, in a way, with Maurizio Cazzati’s Sonata Prima, “La Pellicana” (1670). This sonata, with its Christological reference, according to the notes, could have been intended for performance at Mass on Corpus Christi. The ensemble contrasts these works, so different in their effect, by giving Uccellini’s on violin and harpsichord and Cazzati’s on the sonorous combination of violin, bass violin, and organ.
The rest of the program, performed on violin, contains two sinfonias (in F Major and D Minor, the first accompanied only by harpsichord and the second by violin and organ) by Alessandro Stradella. In the first, Caudle plays the rapid movement with a buoyancy that wouldn’t seem to have been possible on the cornett. But in the sterner second, the greater weight of the first movement and the succeeding lively fuguelike interchanges in which the two Caudles engage still might have been possible, at least musically, if not technically, on the cornett. In the fifth sonata from Corelli’s influential op. 5, performers and listeners pass through the gates into fully idiomatic writing for the violin (though it might have been interesting to hear one of Corelli’s aristocratic slow movements on cornett as a basis for comparison).
Most violinists and aficionados of the violin literature really shouldn’t miss the opportunity Theresa Caudle and Canzona have provided to witness the violin come of age (and engage in a sort of expressive contest—perhaps to the death—with its precursor). As the recital makes clear, the outcome in the earliest works may not have been entirely certain, but by the time of Corelli’s sonatas, a victor had clearly emerged, at least for the music of that time. With its interesting and informative notes, its vivid recorded sound, its compelling performances, its embarrassment of textural riches, and its captivating premise, the recital deserves a place in every violin collection - at least.
Robert Maxham, Fanfare Magazine