More than a dull ripieno!

More than a dull ripieno!
Baroque Sonatas for Viola
 Francesca Venturi Ferriolo, Hwa-Jeong Lee, Johannes Berger
Da Vinci Classics C00280
. 72’12

Sonatas by Johann Gottlieb Graun, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach,
Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, Felice Giardini, William Flackton.

The viola is commonly held to be of little importance in the musical context.
Apparently the cause of this may be the fact that it is often played by people who are not yet very advanced with their studies, or who do not have particular natural gifts … or because this instrument offers few advantages to those who play it“.

So wrote Johann Joachim Quantz in his 1752 treatise On Playing the Flute. The intervening centuries have done little to enhance its reputation, the continuation of ‘viola jokes’ amongst orchestral players being just one example. This imaginative recording by viola player Francesca Venturi Ferriolo is an important contribution to recognising the importance of the viola, in particular during the transitional period towards the end of the Baroque era, when a wide variety of styles developed in Europe including the Galant style, the Empfindsamer Stil centred on Berlin, and the emerging Mannheim and Viennese styles.

The “dull ripieno” of the CD’s title comes from William Flackton’s introduction to his Six Solos for a Tenor Violin, which he “intended to shew that Instrument in a more conspicuous Manner, than it has hitherto been accustomed“. His Sonata VI in G concludes the recording, which opens with four composers linked through their Berlin connections in and around the court of the music-loving Frederick the Great. Johann Gottlieb Graun (1702/03–1771) was Kapellmeister of the Royal Chapel, while Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708–1762/63) was the ‘contraviolinist’ in the King’s ensemble. The links with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) and Berlin are well-known. He was appointed to the Court orchestra through Graun and his brother.

A neat geo-musical link between Berlin and London comes with the Italian composer Felice Giardini (1716–1796). He gave several concerts in Berlin before moving to London, then the leading musical city of Europe. There he worked with Johann Christian Bach (the ‘London Bach’), not least in the famed Bach-Abel concerts. Carl Friedrich Abel assisted William Flackton (1709–1798) with the publication of the Six Solos, three of which were written for ‘a tenor‘ – a popular description of a viola.

The three performers play sensitively and musically, with an understanding of historical performance techniques, using instruments chosen to reflect the possible sound of the original performances. Francesca Venturi Ferriolo playes a viola by Maurizio Vella after Girolamo Amati “Stauffer” 1615. Hwa Jeong Lee plays fortepianos by Kerstin Schwarz after the 1749 Gottfried Silbermann owned by Frederick the Great for the three Berlin composers and after Bartolomeo Cristofori 1726 for the Giardini, and a harpsichord after Joannes Ruckers 1624 for the Flackton.

As well as a well-needed look at a little known repertoire, and a neglected instrument, the music also portrays and interesting period in the development of music of the post Baroque era and the international connections betweens musicians of the 18th-century.