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Brescianello Unlocked (Album)

Technical acrobatics, jaunty melodies and shifting rhythms. This must be Vivaldi, right? Wrong. The music on this album comes from the Red Priest’s younger – but no less gifted – contemporary, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello.

In the second volume of their exploration of Brescianello’s 1727 Op. 1 set of sinfonias and violin concertos, La Serenissima and its founding director conductor Adrian Chandler draw parallels between the two composers. The Adagio of Brescianello’s Fourth Violin Concerto, for example, is clearly influenced by the slow movement of Vivaldi’s E major Concerto (‘Spring’) from The Four Seasons – published, like Brescianello’s collection, in Amsterdam two years earlier. But concerto (spring) from The Four Seasons – published, like Brescianello’s collection, in Amsterdam two years earlier. But Chandler and La Serenissima also advocate for a reappraisal of the Bologna-born, Venetian-trained composer’s own distinctive compositional style.

Chandler takes the lead in the three violin concertos (numbers Four, Five and Six). His playing is brilliantly skilful, immediate and engaging. The handling of the cadenza at the end of the Sixth Concerto (one of the first cadenzas to appear in print) is especially impressive. Chandler is partnered in true concertante style by the string players of La Serenissima, who come into their own in the three sinfonias (or ‘siphonias’) that make up the rest of the set and further reveal Brescianello’s gift for melodic writing. The album is rounded off with a French-style suite and the slow movement from Vivaldi’s RV 366 Violin Concerto, which the German violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisendel inserted in place of Brescianello’s own Vivaldian adagio in the fourth concerto.

John-Pierre Joyce, BBC Music Magazine, Double 5 Star review, Christmas 2023

The resurrection of the music of so many eighteenth-century composers has, at times it seems, become something like a flood for performing groups and commercial record companies during the past sixty years or so, with the result that the wonderfully rich vein of worthwhile repertoire is now available for music-lovers world-wide in a manner that would have been considered unthinkable in the decade following World War II.

Here is another of those admirable composers, whose music, contemporaneous with Vivaldi (as a quick point of reference), is more than well-worth our attention. As Adrian Chandler writes in his excellently informative booklet notes, little is known of Brescianello’s early life, who, it seems, was very likely born in Bologna round about 1690, and made his first artistic mark in Venice, before travelling in acceptance of various courtly
appointments. Such facts are as may be, and serve to place him historically and geographically in his time, but it is his music with which we are (and his contemporanes were) concerned.

Thanks to Adrian Chandler’s assiduous investigations, we can hear Brescianello’s music today worldwide, and this admirably-produced (in every sense) CD stands as an excellent example for the justification of the contemporary classical record business: performances and recordings of such quality would have been almost impossible seventy-odd years ago, justifications a-plenty for the support (in every sense, aesthetic as well as financial) of this music, which, because of its qualities, appeals as much to us today as it surely did to its initial hearers three hundred years ago.

Little need be said of the individual works here, but I felt the C minor Concerto V for violin, strings and continuo was arguably the finest and most originally expressive composition in this collection, although the A major Concerto runs it close. Nor should one overlook Brescianello’s early symphonies – the three here: Nos 4,5 & 6 – are fascinating and full of original touches that presage very early Haydn – a true connecting-thread between Vivaldi and the later Austrian genius; as if to help prove the point, a brief (2’15”) alternative slow movement of a Vivaldi Concerto, by Pisandel, is included.

This most excellent is ample justification for the present-day mantra of commerce in the service of art – it is an aesthetically impressive disc that score heavily on all counts; Adrian Chandler’s booklet notes are also worthy of attention.

Robert Matthew-Walker, Musical Opinion, Autumn 2023

The title for this recording was inspired by the situation in which many ensembles and musicians found themselves after the arrival of the devastating Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Countries were locked down; concerts and recordings were cancelled; musicians everywhere were out of work.” Thus Adrian Chandler opens his liner-notes to the first instalment of his Brescianello project, with the title ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (review). The second instalment, to be reviewed here, has been recorded under different circumstances. The lockdown had come to an end, and the guidelines of social distancing had been relieved. That explains the title of the present disc: ‘Unlocked’.

Both titles could also be applied to the figure of Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, whose name seldom appears on the programmes of concerts. He is not that badly represented on disc: in my collection I have several discs with instrumental music and one with suites for colascione. His only opera, Tisbe, has been released by cpo. However, despite these recordings he has remained behind closed doors for many music lovers, and this project is meant to unlock his oeuvre.

Brescianello was born around 1690, apparently in Bologna (but Florence has also been mentioned). Unfortunately we know nothing about his musical education and his early years in Italy. The first documented evidence of his existence dates from 1714, when he was working in Venice as a valet for Therese Kunegunde Sobieska, the music-loving exiled electress of Bavaria. That year the War of the Spanish Succession came to an end, and the electress returned to Bavaria with Brescianello in her retinue. In Munich he entered the service of her husband, Elector Maximilian II Emanuel, as a violinist. He was there to stay only a year, as in 1716 Johann Christoph Pez, Oberkapellmeister at the court of Württemberg, died. Brescianello applied for the post of director musices, undoubtedly with the aim of becoming Oberkapellmeister himself. In 1718 he composed his opera Tisbe, which he dedicated to his employer, Duke Eberhard Ludwig. In 1721 he was given the post he had been looking for, and he remained in the service of the Württemberg court until his pension, either in 1751 or 1755. He was succeeded by Ignaz Holzbauer.

His time in Stuttgart was not without problems. From 1719 to 1721 he was in conflict with Reinhard Keiser, who wanted to take his position. In 1737 the finances of the court collapsed, and Brescianello lost his position. He spent the next years composing, and in 1744 he was reinstated as Oberkapellmeister by the new Duke, Carl Eugen.

The instrumental oeuvre of Brescianello has two faces. Eberhard Ludwig had stayed in Paris around 1700, and he was one of many aristocrats, who were deeply impressed by music life in France, at and around the court of Louis XIV. Many aimed at imitating what they had heard and seen, and asked their chapel to play and their Kapellmeister to compose in the French style. The latter were called Lullistes, and to some extent Brescianello was one of them. The present disc includes one of the fruits of his employer’s preference for the French style. The Ouverture in A for strings and basso continuo is one of five; Brescianello also wrote two separate chaconnes. It would be interesting to know the scoring: did Brescianello model his overtures after the common French scoring, with three different strings between treble (violin) and bass? Probably not, as it seems very unlikely that a German court orchestra had access to such instruments. But as I have not seen the scores, I can’t answer this question.

The rest of Brescianelli’s output is written in the Italian style. As we know nothing about his formative years, it is impossible to say whether he has been in close contact to Antonio Vivaldi during his time in Venice. He must have heard the latter’s concertos and other instrumental music, as the sinfonias and concertos performed here show strong similarity with those by Vivaldi. The Opus 1, divided into two parts, is the only collection of music by Brescianello that has been printed. It was published by Le Cène in Amsterdam around 1727, and dedicated to Eberhard Ludwig. The edition comprises six sinfonias for strings and basso continuo and six concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo. They are played here in the same order as they are printed: first a concerto, then a sinfonia, and so on.

Like Vivaldi, Brescianello expects the solo parts to be played by a virtuosic violinist, as they include techniques that may have been beyond the grasp of amateurs. Moreover, in general solo concertos were intended for performance by court chapels and other institutions of – at least partly – professional players. It is notable that the closing movement of last concerto includes a written-out cadenza, one of the earliest to appear in print, according to Adrian Chandler.

The sinfonias are less complicated. They also consist of three movements in the conventional order fast – slow – fast. The slow movement usually follows the opening movement attacca; it is seldom more than a bridge between the two fast movements. The exception is the adagio of the Sinphonia V, in fact one of the most beautiful pieces on this disc. The adagio of the Sinphonia VI is a separate movement, which is also notable because of its scoring with a solo part for the violin. These sinfonias are not unique: there are similarities with the concertos and sinfonias for strings by Vivaldi, but also the Introduttioni teatrali by Locatelli.

The disc ends with a piece by Vivaldi. That is to say: it is the slow movement of a violin concerto by Vivaldi, which was arranged by Johann Georg Pisendel, concertmaster of the Dresden court orchestra, who inserted it in his copy of Brescianello’s Concerto IV. It sheds light on the widespread arrangement practice in the baroque period.

The complete Op. 1 has been recorded before, by Banchetto Musicale (Dynamic, 2000), but as that recording may not be available anymore, this project is an important contribution to our knowledge of Brescianello. The performances are very good; Adrian Chandler is a fine violinist, who does full justice to the solo parts. Overall, the sound he and his ensemble produce, is probably a bit on the cool side; I would prefer a more ‘Italian’ sound, but that is also a matter of taste.

This second disc with music by Brescianello is almost certainly not the last: there are three overtures to be recorded, and if it is Chandler’s aim to record his complete oeuvre, we also can expect some chamber music, such as the Concerti à 3. “If it was only around 100 years ago that Vivaldi’s music was dredged from obscurity, is it possible that Brescianello’s music can become an accepted part of the classical canon?”, Chandler asks in his liner-notes. I certainly hope so. The Op. 1 is an impressive testimony of Brescianello’s art, and the chamber music I have heard confirms his qualities. I am looking forward to the next volumes.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International, October 2023