Recording of the Week Bojan Čičić performs violin music by Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli
With hundreds of new recordings hitting our desks each month, communal listening chez Presto often requires a fair amount of negotiation and on occasion just a dash of ‘hard sell’ to colleagues – so securing airtime for a disc of sonate da camera by an unknown Italian composer (sample response: ‘Never heard of him - isn’t “Carbonelli” a type of pasta?’) by a newly-formed ensemble making their debut recording was always going to be a tough one. But six weeks on, this is still getting several outings and streams of compliments each week: Bojan Čičić and his Illyria Consort could sell coals to Newcastle, let alone Carbonelli to Leamington (and, I’m sure, far beyond).
The sole surviving works of one of the many Italian violinists who flocked to London claiming connections with Corelli in the 1720s, Carbonelli's twelve sonatas (we get the first six here, three of which receive their first ever recordings) are immensely attractive and original works, probably best described as ‘Italian with an English accent’ – the influence of Corelli is shot through with dances and jigs which owe just as much to Daniel Purcell and his contemporaries, as Čičić pointed out in a recent interview with me.
If the name of this Croatian-born baroque violinist may not ring immediate bells just yet, the distinctive sweetness and line of Čičić’s playing provoked ripples of recognition amongst my colleagues, who’d all adored the recording of the Bach Double Concerto on which he partnered Rachel Podger a few years ago; though this is his first solo disc, Čičić has been quietly establishing himself with London’s leading early music ensembles for the past decade, and his self-effacing, collegiate approach to music-making is always in evidence here in the rapport with gamba-player Susanne Heinrich, harpsichordist Steven Devine and theorbist David Miller.
On first hearing, I raised an eyebrow at the booklet’s claim that the technical hurdles which these pieces present has played a possible role in their neglect (Čičić noted wryly in our interview that a distinguished fellow violinist had recently declined to take up the gauntlet, even when presented with an essentially blank cheque to make a recording for another label!), and if that comes across as a backhanded compliment then bear with me. These aren’t works (or indeed performances) which wear their difficulty on their sleeve, but when you actually see the music written down it becomes apparent that this difficulty is often quite staggering. Other than the exhilarating set of variations which bring the final sonata on this set to a dizzying close, virtuosity is for the most part worn lightly: following along with the sketchy manuscript that’s available online, it struck me that the most overtly ‘flashy’ passages in the allegros (delivered with infectious energy and impetus) seem on the whole to sit relatively well ‘under the hand’, whilst the lion’s share of real challenges lie in slow movements, often stuffed to the gunnels with double-, triple-, and even quadruple-stopping that looks literally impossible on the page and makes the complexities of Bach’s great Chaconne (BWV1004) seem like a walk in the park. It’s testament to Čičić’s artistry that you’re never aware of the difficulties being surmounted – fistfuls of the most awkwardly-written chords are dispatched with immaculate intonation and voicing, whilst the contrapuntal sections in the elaborate fugues have a clarity to rival the finest keyboard-player.
I’d wager a tidy sum that I won’t be the only one to come away from this beautiful disc itching to hear more from both composer and performers. As those final swirling variations died away, I felt a wave of disappointment as I remembered that the rest of Carbonelli’s output is currently Missing In Action, but there are still another six sonatas in this set, four of which currently languish unrecorded – fingers crossed that Čičić, the Illyria Consort and Delphian finish the job and lavish the same love and commitment on them, and soon.
Bojan Čičić (violin), The Illyria Consort
Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC