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Briefly Noted: Giovanni Battista Somis

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G. B. Somis, Violin Sonatas, op. 1, K.-M. Kentala, L. Pulakka, M. Meyerson

(released on June 24, 2014)
Glossa GCD921807 | 73'46"
Harpsichordist Mitzi Meyerson specializes in surprises, the sort of musician who delights in the unexpected turn of phrase or sonority. The same team featured on this recent disc -- violinist Kreeta-Maria Kentala, cellist Lauri Pulakka, and Meyerson on harpsichord -- brought us the violin sonatas of London violinist Richard Jones, a companion set to the harpsichord works of the same composer that Meyerson recorded. The trio, which the musicians took to calling the Jones Band, has now resurrected another unknown composer, Giovanni Battista Somis (1686-1763), with his first opus, a set of sonatas for violin.

Somis was born in Turin, where his father (Lorenzo Francesco) and brother (Giovanni Lorenzo) were both violinists, and he made a living there teaching and playing the same instrument, even leading the court orchestra by the age of 10. He dedicated the op. 1 set to the French-leaning Duchess of Savoy, Marie-Jeanne-Baptiste, who married her son to Louis XIV's niece, sealing relations with France. Acting as her son's regent, she began the construction of a Baroque palace for herself in Turin, designed by Filippo Juvarra, the Palazzo Madama. As a student at one time of Corelli and the teacher of Jean-Marie Leclair, Somis provided a sort of bridge between Italian and French styles, a nexus hard-wired by his upbringing in Savoy.

The musicians approach the scores of these twelve sonatas, all in three movements (slow-fast-fast), with considerable and pleasing freedom, arranging them in a different order. Many embellishments are added, and each sonata yields different results as cellist and harpsichordist take the continuo line in different combinations. For example, the minuet final movement of no. 5 opens with the harpsichord in a tinkly registration, answered jauntily by violin with only cello pizzicato, then all three together. Meyerson, a connoisseur of instruments, plays on two different harpsichords, reconstructions of double-manual instruments by Keith Hill and Michael Johnson. The best is saved for last, sonata no. 11, where an actual bell accompanies a music-box harpsichord registration and pizzicato cello in the introduction to the last movement, which returns at the very top of a harpsichord arpeggio that rolls off into the sunset.

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