Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) came from a diplomatic, aristocratic Venetian family. The Marcello children were born into a world where civic duty to the Most Serene Republic was considered a duty. So the family took their (and the city's) patronage of the arts very seriously… indeed, members of Marcello's family were in part responsible for founding the Teatro di Sant'Angelo, in 1676. Also a poet and writer on musical theory, Marcello composed prolifically (over 650 works of his are known) and played a major role in the city's musical life. His two periods of exile from Venice on civic duty (in Pula, 100 km east on the Istrian peninsula; and in the now Lombard city of Brescia to the west) must have been hard for him – especially given his involvement with the prestigious and progressive north Italian Academies in which he played such a prominent and constructive part.
The music we hear on this CD from Centaur was first published in 1712: it's the first six sonatas of the 12 Opus number 2 for recorder. They were arranged for the increasingly popular flute by the redoubtable John Walsh some 20 years later. Compact and somewhat toned-down, they largely follow the slow-fast-slow-fast sonata da chiesa structure and contain some scope for virtuoso display by the flautist: Stuhr lives up to those demands well. Conservative they are as compositions; though not wholly unadventurous.
The interpretation by the North American Lyremar Trio (Mary Pshonik, Baroque cello; Rebecca Stuhr, flute; Lynn Zeigler, harpsichord) somehow fits what we think of as the style of the eighteenth century Venetian Patrician: measured, thoughtful, self-aware, practiced, elegant, gentile. And gentle; this is very much undemonstrative and restrained music in every way. Even at moments of rhetoric, such as the Allegro of the B Flat Major sonata [tr.22], there's nothing strident or excessive. The rhythm and melodic drive, while not lacking flair, certainly prize patience and poise over gesture.
The playing of the three specialists in the Lyremar Trio is accordingly somber: dour almost, at times. But neither wooden nor staid. It has to be said that there are places (particularly in Sonatas 1 and 3) where their phrasing emphasizes the down-to-earth side of Marcello's placid and almost predictable developments, rather than the music's grace. Since repertoire music is likely to be new to most people (although there is a handful of other recordings), it would benefit from being played as demonstratively as possible, without distorting its integrity. It has to be said that Lyremar Trio isn't always so expressive as they might be.
No matter; here is nearly an hour of pleasant, elegant and fresh mid-Baroque music that will please for its balance and almost dignified appeal to compromise and measured sobriety – without ever being detached or without points of reference. The recording's acoustic is wholesome and clean. Although just a little more verve from the players at times was warranted, this is a recording to respect and refresh the palate.
Copyright © 2010, Mark Sealey.