It is just a coincidence that I am writing this review on Father's Day, as the two composers whose music is on this CD were father and son; Alessandro was born in 1660, and his son Domenico was born twenty-five years later. (The other side of the coin is that father and son seem not to have had the best of relationships as time went on; rivalry or jealousy might have been to blame.)
It is perhaps appropriate, given the date, that the father is honored more than the son on this CD, although Domenico is the more familiar of the two composers, largely through the 500-odd keyboard sonatas that he wrote for the Spanish court. Perhaps father Alessandro's music is less innovative, but he didn't have the opportunity to travel and learn from other cultures as much as his son did. Furthermore, he got a little lost in the shuffle when tastes and traditions changed within his own culture. The Vatican curtailed public entertainments during his lifetime, and music written for courts and private patrons was starting to given way to music written for the people – a process that would continue for more than a century and a half, however.
This CD is a program of enjoyable music excellently performed, despite the fact that it is a bit of a hodge-podge. It opens with a sinfonia (overture) to one of Alessandro's many secular cantatas or "serenatas." As the sinfonia was written to lead directly into a vocal number, there is a cliff-hanger ending, which Biondi hides by moving right on to Domenico's Sinfonia in C! Music by father and son alternates throughout the CD. The centerpiece is Alessandro's Sei Concerti in sette parti (Six Concertos in seven parts). The title implies that there are prominent roles for soloists in these works, but that is only partly true. Eighteenth-century writer Charles Burney thought these works too "severe" for performance outside of the church. Their tone is undeniably serious and learned, but Alessandro's fecund melodic invention and feel for textural variety ensure that these six concertos are very pleasing indeed. That's true of everything on this disc, whether it was written by the father or by the son. String timbres dominate, but a taste of recorder in Alessandro's Sonata [Concerto IX] in A minor is not unwelcome.
Biondi and Europa Galante are less shocking than they were on their recent Vivaldi CD from Virgin Veritas, which was an exercise in contrasts and pungent characterization. Nevertheless, their playing remains brilliant, assertive, and even a little nervous. There's no sleeping through this CD, and with plenty of contrast, no charges of "sewing machine music" either. This program was recorded in Parma in July of 2001, and the venue (a library) seems to have provided a perfect balance of intimacy and spaciousness.
Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle