Geminiani – Sonatas for Violoncello

0 of 5 stars

Sonatas for Violoncello & Basso Continuo, Op.5
Pièces de Clavecin

Alison McGillivray (baroque cello)
David McGuinness (harpsichord)
Eligio Quinteiro (alto baroque guitar)
Joseph Crouch (baroque cello)

Recorded between 10-13 August 2004 in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, England

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: September 2005
[CD/SACD Hybrid]
Duration: 75 minutes

Alison McGillivray prefaces her booklet note with an extract from Francesco Geminiani’s “Art of Playing the Violin” (London, 1751), part of which reads: “The intention of music is not only to please the ear, but to express sentiments, strike the imagination, affect the mind, and command the passions”. On the basis of this definition, McGillivray and colleagues succeed admirably, with a highly attractive programme featuring sonatas for solo cello with continuo, among which are scattered solo harpsichord works adapted by Geminiani himself from earlier works for violin or cello.

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762), a student of Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, was a composer and virtuoso violinist who spent much of his life in London, Dublin and Paris. His Opus 5 set of Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo was published in Paris in 1746, and his adaptations for harpsichord of selections from earlier opuses were published in 1743, a second volume appearing in 1762.

McGillivray alludes to Geminiani’s love of painting, and in many ways this is the access not only to the composer’s astonishing use of different textures and registers to colour his musical material, but also the present performers’ response to it. The Italianate elements are intimate and rich in tones more often subdued than sunny; more Guardi than Canaletto. The French elements, too, have an intimacy that alludes to what Diderot called Chardin’s “silent compositions”.

From the opening Sonata, one can hear the refined sensuality of McGillivray’s playing and how she interacts with her partners, particularly with Joseph Crouch. His masterfully executed bass line often bursts forth as an equal partner, not least in the beautiful final Allegro in the last sonata (No.6), where the two cellos perform senza accompaniment. McGIllivray’s phrasing, articulation and ornamentation, combined with a distinctly tangy timbre, bring out the highly individual character of each sonata to perfection. The nods to the French viol tradition, particularly noticeable in the Andante of the D minor sonata, provide a little extra spice: McGillivray responds with over-dotting, mordant spread chords and subtle shifts in diction. This is imaginative playing of the first rank.

In addition to fellow-cellist Joseph Crouch, McGillivray is faithfully supported by harpsichordist David McGuinness (whose tasteful accompaniments are surpassed only by the improvisatory freedom and polished ornamentation of his solo contributions) and Eligio Quinteiro. The latter’s pungent guitar provides washes of sunshine and melancholy by turns (his contributions to the second and fifth sonatas are particularly fine).

Linn’s recorded sound is, as always, exemplary; this is a stellar release, full of discrete pleasures for the discerning listener.

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