John Holloway: Veracini Sonatas (ECM New Series 1889)

Veracini Sonatas

Veracini Sonatas

John Holloway violin
Jaap ter Linden cello
Lars Ulrik Mortensen cembalo
Recorded September 2003, Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Executive Producer: Manfred Eicher

Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) is the subject of John Holloway’s fourth ECM traversal of Baroque violin repertoire. Joined now by cellist Jaap ter Linden and harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, who together comprise a formidable continuo, Holloway mines the ore of yet another underrepresented violinist-composer, this one an iconoclast to the last: showman, itinerant solo artist, and experimenter. The variety of his contributions to the sonata canon of the time—in both its four- and five-movement incarnations—is expertly represented on this disc. Through them all runs a deep mineral vein of melodic and atmospheric sensitivity.

The Sonata No. 1 in g minor, composed in 1721, comes from the composer’s Opus 1. Its pentagonal structure flies effortlessly from Holloway’s bow, by which he elicits a tone so organic that one hardly notices the trills and mordents of his interpretive genius—some of the most artful to be found in the world of Baroque violining. Whether by the leaping Allegros or the darker, quasi-operatic turns, Holloway and friends mark the passage of this music with instruments as cartographic as they are sonorous.

One quickly notices an airiness to this music that, while charming, is never paltry. This is due equally to the writing and to the playing, both of which work in lively, scintillating congruence. And even though Holloway occupies the spotlight, the interactions between cello and harpsichord are so integral—the former weaving comets through the latter’s pinpointed stars—that to imagine the music without them is to imagine a sky without clouds. The result is a sense of open space, whereby each sonata lends grandeur to even the airiest movements—to wit: the Largo that begins the Sonata No. 5 in C Major. Taken from the Sonate a violino, o flauto solo, e basso, a collection that predates the Opus 1 by five years yet which was published only posthumously, it sketches canvas with bolder ground lines. This renders the exuberant movements all the more emphatic, enacting balance between the violin’s flight paths and the bass lines entrenched below. The concluding Allegro emotes with bravado in a blush of call and response.

The date of composition of the Sonata No. 1 in D Major, from Veracini’s “dissertation” on Corelli’s Opus 5, is uncertain. Considering its programmatic brilliance, youth dominates the possibilities. The dual voicing in particular invokes the antennae of a butterfly fresh from the cocoon. The contrast of this sonata’s shadows and lights presage the maturity of narrative voice achieved in the Sonata No. 6 in A Major, from Veracini’s Opus 2, the Sonate accademiche. Written in 1744, its sweep and drama are on par with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The brief Siciliana that opens betrays nothing of the variety about to ensue. This one has it all: tearful beauty and folk-like revelry in equal measure. At its center is a memorable Andante, in which we are treated to a lute-registered harpsichord, while pizzicato cello and muted strings from the violin touch hands in a most delicate choreography before funneling into a spirited Allegro assai to superb closure.

Where some composers have left only breadcrumbs for future listeners to follow in the wake of paltry imitations, this benchmark recording offers loaves of sonic goodness that are as warm and nourishing as the days they were first baked. The mastery of their realization is matched only by the engineering, which captures details from a respectable distance. Yet another essential document of 18th-century repertoire from those who know its secrets best.

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