Mancini: 12 Recorder Concertos / Marti, Nigito, Capella Tiberina

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Here's a second release from Brilliant Classics of the Neapolitan musician Francesco Mancini (1672–1737), a leading light in his city's culture of composition and education as director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, maestro of the Royal Chapel and composer of 29 operas and more than 200 cantatas. His modern reputation largely rests on his recorder sonatas (available on 94058); the new release extends our knowledge of that cheerful aesthetic to his recorder concertos, in similarly sprightly, period- instrument performances by young musicians with a background in this repertoire.

Corina Marti studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, famed nursery of talent in the performance of early music, and the concertos are led from the keyboard by another Swiss-based musician, Alexandra Nigito, who has already proved her expertise in this music with recordings of cantatas by Pasquini (on 94225).

The recorder concertos are more demanding to play than to listen to. One unusual stylistic trademark is the preponderance of fugue in the fast movements, but that does not imply a dryly academic style – like Mancini's sonatas, the concertos are full of memorable and deftly surprising melodies.

• Performed on period instruments.
• Recorded in May 2011 in Rome.
• Includes booklet notes in English and Italian. 3642600.az_MANCINI_Recorder_Concertos_Nos.html

F. MANCINI Recorder Concertos Nos. 1, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14, 16-20 Corina Marti (rec); Alexandra Nigito (hpd); Paolo Perrone, cond; Capella Tiberina BRILLIANT 94324 (2 CDs: 110:40)

Although well known in his day, the Neapolitan composer Francesco Mancini (1672-1737) is now sufficiently obscure that (as of the date I write this) listings of the few recordings his works have received are intermixed in the Fanfare Archive with entries for Henry Mancini of Pink Panther film-music fame. This fall into oblivion may be due in part to the decline of the status of Naples following the formation of a united Italy in 1870, which entailed a decisive shift of political power to the north of the Apennine Peninsula. However, following the Norman conquest of Sicily and southern Italy in 1071, and the subsequent formation of the Kingdom of Sicily in 1130, Naples was one of the major centers of political power and cultural influence in Europe for some seven centuries. Mancini spent virtually his entire life in that city, holding the post of organist to the royal chapel from 1704 until his death. A rival to Alessandro Scarlatti, he repeatedly aspired to be awarded the latter’s post as maestro di capella . He assumed that position on an interim basis from 1702 to 1708 during an extended absence by Scarlatti, but gained it on a permanent basis only upon the latter’s death in 1725. In 1735 he suffered a completely debilitating stroke, but lingered for two more years before dying. His musical legacy includes 29 operas, 12 oratorios, and over 200 secular cantatas.

Back in 34:4 Raymond Tuttle reviewed a two-CD set issued by Brilliant Classics of 12 recorder sonatas by Mancini with the Ensemble Tripla Concordia. Now Brilliant has followed up with a set of 12 recorder concertos. Since virtually all the sonata numbers and key signatures are identical, I initially suspected that these were the same works under a different name, but that is not the case. Whereas the 12 sonatas are published works that first appeared in London in 1724 (with a misattribution to a “Sig.ra [sic] Francesco Mancini”!), the 12 concertos presented here are drawn from an unpublished manuscript of 24 concertos in a music conservatory in Naples, that also intermixes works by Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Sarro, Francesco Barbella, Giovanni Battista Mele, and Roberto Valentini (the English expatriate Robert Valentine)—hence their non-consecutive numbering. As Mancini was primarily an opera composer, his list of instrumental pieces is rather small, and these two collections would appear to comprise most of them.

As the informative booklet notes by musicologist Alessandro Lattanzi explain, these concertos are provisionally dated to c.1715, which was a good two decades before the influence of Vivaldi spread southward to Naples. Consequently, these works are penned in the older style of the “Roman-Bolognese school” of Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, and Giovanni Battista Vitali, and the early works of Tommaso Albinoni. One movement—usually the second or third—is a strict fugue, while the other movements are (according to Lattanzi) written in a “rudimentary ritornello form” wherein “successive statements of the motto, jumping from one key to another, are placed side by side in a mosaic-like pattern, often with an almost mechanical alternation of solo and tutti, which provides no distinction between recurrent and non-recurrent sections.” While not worked out with the sophistication and imagination of Vivaldi, then, these are nonetheless well-crafted and entertaining works.

For me at any rate, the present recording presents these pieces in their best possible light. The interpretive style is one I would term “aggressive.” The period-instrument ensemble Capella Tiberina (consisting of six violins, one each of a viola, cello, and double bass, three performers on theorbo and baroque guitar, and a percussionist) plays with no vibrato, razor-sharp attacks, and driving rhythm. It is not a style that I would want to hear in music by Bach or Handel, and it might not even be suitable for Vivaldi, but here it provides a rollicking energy and spice that enlivens music that might otherwise sound repetitive and trite. The recorded sound is (pun intended) suitably brilliant. While not an essential acquisition, this set is recommended to fanciers of the recorder and of Baroque concertos alike.

FANFARE: James A. Altena

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BRI94324

  • UPC: 5028421943244

  • Label: Brilliant Classics

  • Composer: Francesco Mancini

  • Conductor: Alexandra Nigito

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Capella Tiberina

  • Performer: Corina Marti