Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46
For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell.
Carbonelli’s set of twelve sonatas were privately (and sumptuously) published in 1729, financed by the Duke of Rutland. They were later re-published by John Walsh, and became widely known, with at least 18 copies surviving to this day. As the excellent CD notes by Michael Talbot (editor of a Carbonelli edition) describe, Carbonelli is known to have written unpublished concertos but, sadly, nothing else by Carbonelli survives. From the 1730s onwards he became a succesful wine merchant, becoming official wine supplier to the court. By his death he was better known for his wine than his musical activities.
This recording by Bojan Čičić and The Illyria Consort concentrate on the first six of the 12 sonatas which, in stylistic terms are closer to the style of church sonatas than the second six, not least because they all include a fugal movement. These feature complex double stopping techniques, added to the virtuosity of many aspects of the sonatas.
The second contribution of immigrant musicians that this recording exposes is the fact that two of the four performers are musicians from outside the UK who have settled and built succesful careers here – violin soloist Bojan Čičić from Croatia and Susanne Heinrich from Germany, here playing a 7-string bass viol. Susanne is joined on the continuo line by Steven Devine, organ and harpsichord, and David Miller playing theorbo, archlute and baroque guitar.
It is worth following the score as you listen (easily available on IMSLP here and here), at least for the opening Adagio, just to see the extraordinary ornaments and elaborations that Bojan Čičić adds to the musical text in the true spirit of a violin virtuoso. In Bojan Čičić’s case, that virtuosity is worn lightly, his flourishes blending perfectly into the flow of the music, rather than being self-promoting adds on, as is so often heard. His three continuo colleagues of The Illyria Consort match him in their spirited and musical playing, all entering into the spirit of the music.
Newcomers to the world of Baroque music are usually astonished to find that all the complex twiddling that they hear is based on just two lines of music – treble and bass. The treble soloist adds elaborate ornaments and flourishes, while the keyboard and plucked continuo players (and sometimes, the string bass as well) improvise above the single-note bass line, using little figures suggesting the appropriate harmony. Following the score while listening to music like this really exposes the talent of musicians. You can also see the extensive use of double-stopping in the violin part, notably in the fugue movements in each sonata where it sounds as though two violins are playing, rather than just one.
On so many levels, this is a must-have CD. Fascinating music by a little-known composer, played with outstanding musical conviction by four excellent musicians.