Giovan (or Giovanni) Battista Vitali was a composer and cello (or violine) player associated with Bologna and later the Este family in Modena, where the present set of sonatas was published in 1684. The middle Baroque is thought of as a period when innovations began in Italy and spread outward, but at the height of the reign of the Sun King in France the influence sometimes went the other way, and these sonatas, consisting of short groups of dances in the same key, are examples of French influence in Italy. The influence involves not only the dance rhythms but also the multipart string writing, which, Carlo Vitali (presumably no relation) points out in the notes, is set up so that inner voices can be omitted and the whole reduced to a more typical Italian two violins-plus-continuo texture. Despite the album's release on the budget Brilliant label from the Netherlands, this is really a specialist item. Vitali's notes are a musicological tour de force, touching on dance, royal marriages, and the terminology used to describe this music at the time. There's a degree of interest, for this music was among the ancestors of the French-but-international "suite" of several decades later, but for the general listener it's pretty thin stuff, with neither French court splendor nor the varied melodic and contrapuntal writing of the more daring Italian composers. The players of the Semperconsort under first violinist and director Luigi Cozzolino deliver clean, rather reserved performances on an impressive collection of historical instruments, and the sound, recorded in a castle in Bivigliano, is appropriate. Cozzolino, for no very good reason, ends the album with a composition of his own, a Grave slow movement, in the style of Vitali. More interesting for large Baroque collections than for the general listener.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Varie Sonate alla Francese e all'Italiana a 6, Op. 11|