Just when you think you have all your Dall'Abacos in a row, they bring along a new one: Joseph-Marie-Clément Dall'Abaco was the son of famed cello virtuoso and composer Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco. His long lifespan witnessed an unimaginable measure of musical developments; born the year Vivaldi published L'estro armonico, the younger Dall'Abaco died the year Beethoven commenced work on his Fifth Symphony. For all that time on earth, Dall'Abaco's extant catalog of works, all for cello, is comparatively slim; about 40 sonatas and this set of 11 caprices, preserved only in a very bad manuscript copy made in the nineteenth century. Although these works defy dating, stylistically, they seem to belong to the late Baroque, probably composed before Joseph-Marie-Clément Dall'Abaco was made a baron by the court at Munich in 1759. Although he appeared there many times, Dall'Abaco was never a member of the court orchestra in Munich, and the honorific may have been bestowed as a retroactive gesture to the memory of his father, whose exalted reputation Dall'Abaco was never able to outgrow while he lived.
That may change if cellist Kristin von der Goltz has her way -- witness her superb Raum Klang disc Joseph-Marie-Clément Dall'Abaco: 11 Capricen für Violoncello. Dusting off the manuscript at the Biblioteca del Conservatorio di Milano -- so obscure that it's not even listed in Grove's -- and making it playable through careful, fine-toothed comb quality editing, von der Goltz has discovered that these 11 little gems are mini-masterpieces of the cello literature. In terms of style, they inhabit a completely unfamiliar netherworld placed historically between the six solo suites of Johann Sebastian Bach and the sonatas of Boccherini, except that they also seem informed by titled keyboard character pieces associated with François Couperin. Moreover, these 11 Caprices are rich with bizarre twists and turns that exemplify a certain playful mischievousness on Dall'Abaco's part that is found nowhere in the works of his illustrious father. If these caprices truly resemble anything, we know from the middle of the eighteenth century, you might draw a parallel between this and the keyboard polonaises of Dall'Abaco's contemporary Wilhelm Friedemann Bach -- a comparison that still only loosely fits.
These are unbelievably terrific pieces nevertheless, even if you cannot pin them down to their historical era like so many insects to a wax display board. As they lack the usual continuo support endemic to their era, the Capricci have a timeless quality that lifts them out of the eighteenth century and right into your heart. Most of that, though, must be credited to von der Goltz's performance -- she has studied these works so well, and plays them so beautifully, that listeners feel as though they are conducting a conversation with the long-dead composer. It is a voice we have never heard before; Joseph-Marie-Clément Dall'Abaco is a major discovery and Kristin von der Goltz's advocacy of his work here is above criticism. Cello fanatics will certainly want to know this, sooner rather than later, but there is no reason why any other music lover should feel excluded from this discussion. Raum Klang's disc Joseph-Marie- Clément Dall'Abaco: 11 Capricen für Violoncello may not look like much, and the name might be unfamiliar to you, but this release embodies some of the very best qualities classical music has to offer in ways that other kinds of music cannot touch.