CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Briefly Noted: Monza String Quartets

available at Amazon
Carlo Monza, Six String Quartets, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi

(released on May 6, 2022)
Naïve V7541 | 60'28"
Fabio Biondi made this world premiere recording of six string quartets by Carlo Monza (1680-1739) back in 2019, at the Sala Ghislieri of the Accademia Montis Regalis in Mondovì, Italy. Biondi plays the first violin part, joining with three musicians from his ensemble, Europa Galante - violinist Andrea Rognoni, violist Stefano Marcocchi, and cellist Alessandro Andriani. In a liner note, Biondi explains the path that led him to this relatively little-known Milanese composer, related to his attempt to understand what Mozart learned from music popular at the court theater of the Duke of Milan during his travels in Italy.

Biondi discovered a reference to these quartets in the private library of a large residence on Isola Bella, one of the Borromean islands on Lake Maggiore. Although Biondi knew the composer and his music to be of interest, the library refused to authorize the use or even photographing of the manuscript scores. A musicologist friend of his then found a copy of the quartets in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, a connection that showed that that score was not a reduction of symphonies but a set of string quartets. Biondi put together a concert juxtaposing these pieces with the quartets Mozart had written during his time in Italy, and now the group has released this excellent recording of the entire set.

The quartets all have descriptive titles, as well as many of the individual movements. Even in the absence of a true program to tell us what the music is attempting to say, the titles make these pieces, in the words of the one title, like "Opera in musica." In that Quartet in D Major, both violins and the viola receive recitatives like opera singers, a convention heard in several of the other quartets as well. This helps make them like little operatic scenes, ranging from 8 to 12 minutes in length. In the String Quartet in C Major ("Gli amanti rivali") we hear two rival lovers at odds with one another. They challenge each other (second movement) and fight a duel (third movement). One of them dies (fourth movement), and the finale depicts the desperation of the women who loved them ("La disperazione delle donne amanti").

The String Quartet in B-Flat Major ("Il giuocatore") follows the misadventures of a gambler, leading up to a sad movement ("La tristezza per la perdita") and a happier conclusion as he repents of his gambling ("Il giuocatore ravveduto," or the repentent gambler). Other vignettes include the String Quartet in F Major ("La fucina di Vulcano," or the Forge of Vulcan, a scene of reconciled jealousy between Vulcan and Venus under Mount Etna), the String Quartet in G Minor ("Divertimento notturno"), and the charming String Quartet in E-Flat Major ("La caccia"). In that last one, one hears a thunderstorm ("Temporale"), the meeting of the hunters ("Unione dei cacciatori"), and rustic music played by shepherds while the hunters have their dinner ("Rondò de' Pastori frattanto che i Cacciatori cenano"). The performances are all top-notch, and these pieces could easily be confused for early Mozart.

No comments: