The Journal of the Dolmetsch Foundation,
David J Golby
Summer 2006, Vol. 62
Antonio Montanari The Three Dresden Sonatas for violin and basso continuo ed. MICHAEL TALBOT Edition HH Ltd, Bicester, 2005 (pbk, £15) ISMN M 708041726 [HH114.fsp]
Giuseppe Valentini Sonata La Montanari in A major for violin and basso conlinuo ed. MICHAEL TALBOT Edition HH Ltd, Bicester, 2004 (pbk, £11.95) ISMN M 708041375 [HH111.fsp]
available from Schott & Co, tel. 01233 714741
There are very few surviving compositions by the violinist-composer Antonio Maria Montanari (1676-1737), a pupil of Corelli and himself active in Rome for much of his life. This volume lays claim to being the first ever modem edition of any of his chamber music. Judging by this collection of three short violin sonatas, he is certainly a composer whose works would reward further investigation and performance. The better-known concertos, recently reassessed by scholars such as Richard Maunder and Simon McVeigh, have been praised for their contrapuntal and tonal sophistication, combined with a variety of virtuosic demands. The sonatas in question display similar traits.
The connection of these works with Dresden is derived from the German violinist, music collector and possibly one-time pupil of Montanari Johann Pisendel, who returned to the city with an authorised copy of the set copied in his own hand in 1717. Playing through these pieces, ostensibly dance-orientated chamber sonatas, it is clear that they are far from humdrum or formulaic, containing frequent harmonic and rhythmic quirks. Of special interest is a rare example of a Gigue for unaccompanied violin (also the only movement within the set to specify a dance title), which concludes Sonata no.2.
These pieces contain much for the violinist to enjoy although, technically speaking, they should not cause the advanced player too many concerns. There are some interesting double-stops to grapple with (such as in the first movement of Sonata no.3), a fair amount of octave work (Sonata no.2, 2nd movement) and bariolage (Sonata no.1, 2nd movement); and the range extends to a5, requiring a couple of brief forays into 7th position. Despite being more technically demanding than much music of its kind from the period, this repertoire, in a similar vein to Vivaldi, will challenge but not frustrate the player or teacher looking to bridge the gap between, for example, the sonatas of Corelli or Albinoni and the solo music of Bach or the classical concerto.
Their pedagogical value aside, these works have an immediate interest and appeal, and would merit inclusion in exam syllabuses and recitals alike. However, while Talbot may be correct in judging Montanari to be a composer of rare ability and originality, he is, despite the undoubted quality of his output, as unlikely to step out of the shadows of Corelli and Vivaldi today as he was during his own lifetime.
The presentation of the edition itself is of a very high quality. It is clean and uncluttered, with minimal editorial intervention: where present, this is most often in the interests of clarity and consistency. Articulation and dynamic markings are leff almost entirely to the performer’s discretion in the score, with some advice in the Preface and Textual Notes. A definite strength of this edition is the presence of a detailed preface (in both English and German), which includes details of the manuscripts themselves and valuable and succinct textual notes. Also, the editor has added figures, completely absent from the source, and provided a basic, sample continuo realisation, with scope for further elaboration. In addition there are very clearly presented separate parts for violin and bass (with figuring), avoiding any awkward page turns.
Giuseppe Valentini (1681-1753) was a prodigious talent, whether or not we accept Charles Burney’s claim that Geminiani (no less) attributed a hastening of Corelli’s death to Valentini’s success, but whatever the truth of this, the rising star was certainly highly respectful of the master. Valentini’s works are enjoying new-found exposure through recent editions and recordings, and this example is presented as probably the first ever critical edition of a Valentini violin sonata to be placed in public circulation. As the title suggests, it was conceived as a homage to Montanari (Talbot points out in his Preface that it was not the first tribute of this kind that he had paid to the older master), with only an implicit Connection to Corellian circles. It is also another example of a work which found its way to Dresden as a result of Pisendel’s undoubted entrepreneurial talents.
Like similar examples by the same composer, it is in five movements with a ‘double’ finale: a finale of normal length is followed by a miniature second finale, which Talbot aptly compares to ‘coffee following a dessert’. True to the chamber-sonata type, the quick movements display their dance credentials openly. In other respects, this piece is far more individual, with its extreme chromaticism and unconventional harmonic pacing in places. After playing a few bars of the opening Preludio, 1 found myself checking my reading of’ the score, such were the harmonic surprises. This is certainly adventurous and individual music and, with nothing beyond 3rd position and no double-stopping for the violinist, it would provide the intermediate player with an alternative insight into the repertoire of the early 10 century.
Not surprisingly, this edition displays all die strengths of the Montanari examples in the same series. Editorial intervention remains minimal, the discretion of the performers being required to supplement infrequent dynamic markings and fully realise the continuo line (Talbot does provide a suitably stylistic realisation, based on his supplementation of the composer’s own figures). With regard to bowing directions, the performer is assisted by the regular phrase patterns, which succeed in placing down bows in accordance with the conventions of metric accent.
In the preface of his Mee per camera, Valentini tells performers that if they find a work too difficult or too long they may reduce the number of fast movements to two. Skipping the dessert and going straight to coffee will not be to everyone’s taste, but it is certainly useful to have the composer’s permission to do so. This work is to be highly recommended.
DAVID J GOLBY
We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.