Friday, December 31, 2010

Albicastro: 12 Concerti a 4 Op.7 - Collegium Marianum, Coll. 1704

Henrico Albicastro
12 Concerti a Quattro Op.7
Collegium Marianum, Collegium 1704
Pan Classics 10124

This Czech Republic production, recorded in 2000 in the Dvořák Hall of Prague’s Rudolfinum, combines the forces of two Czech period-instruments ensembles-Collegium Marianum and Collegium 1704, which, according to the credits, frequently collaborate on larger projects.

Stylistically, Giovanni Henrico (Henricus) Albicastro (c. 1660–1730) falls roughly into the period midway between Corelli and Vivaldi, except that he wasn’t Italian. The name was made up, a nom de plume for Johann Heinrich von Weissenburg. Nobody seems to know for sure or to agree on exactly when he was born or died (some saying as late as 1738) or, for that matter where. Most sources, including Thomas Krümpelmann’s booklet note, place Albicastro’s birth in Switzerland. Others say the Netherlands, and at least one article I came across insists on Bavaria, even naming the village of Pappenheim, as Albicastro’s place of origin. What is known for fact is that sometime after 1686 his name begins cropping up in the Netherlands on publications of trio sonata and concerto collections printed in Amsterdam and Bruges.

While details surrounding Albicastro’s background and training remain a mystery, it’s not difficult to surmise how a Swiss/Bavarian/Dutch musician living in the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century morphed into an essentially Italian Baroque composer. Amsterdam was at that time an important center of the music publishing industry. Corelli’s famous set of 12 Concerti grossi, op. 6, saw their first printing there in 1714 by the firm of Etienne Roger. Nor was Corelli the only Italian composer whose works were being published in Amsterdam. In 1715, Roger printed Albinoni’s op. 7 Concertos; and even earlier, in 1711, Vivaldi sent his L’estro armonico directly to the same publishing house for printing. Albicastro had to have seen these scores and possibly have heard them performed. So thoroughly did he absorb the Italian style and manner that his own op. 7 heard on these discs is indistinguishable from the models he emulated.

Albicastro’s 12 Concerti a quattro occupy a kind of middle or transitional ground between the concerto grosso proper and the solo concerto formats. There is not the same formalized division between the solos or concertino group and the larger ripieno as one expects in a true concerto grosso. A solo violin-sometimes an oboe-is cast in the role of the contrasting or alternating concertino. These are not yet, however, full-blown solo concertos in the manner of Vivaldi. Albicastro’s approach seems to lie somewhere along the evolutionary path that led from the former to the latter.

If you are fond of Corelli and Vivaldi and everything in Italian concerted instrumental music in between, you will enjoy Albicastro’s concertos. They are energetic, bracing, buoyant, and full of that wonderful Italian cantabile melody that sings of Italy’s sun-drenched vineyards and eternal hills, even if they were written in flat, waterlogged Holland.

Readers who know of my general disinclination towards period instruments, especially in music written after circa 1760, will be pleased to know that the ensembles involved in these recordings exhibit none of the bad habits or eccentricities that are often associated with such performing bodies. Tempos are never too brisk; there is no swelling on notes or abrupt attenuations at ends of phrases and cadences; there is no astringency to the sound of the strings or nasality in the sound of the oboes. This is well-behaved and highly cultivated playing.

According to the insert, this is the first complete recording of Albicastro’s op. 7; and as far as I know it has remained the only one since it was set down nearly a decade ago. It is highly recommended and without reservations.

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare

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