What was the big hit of the publishing world of 1623? It wasn’t Shakespeare’s First Folio (which came out that year), but rather the omnibus of Dario Castello’s sonate concertate.
Over the next 40 years, they would remain continually in print, becoming a cornerstone of every major music library. Thanks to this new recording, I think I understand why.
Almost nothing is known of Dario Castello, save his music. His 30 sonate concertate are models of the Venetian Styl Moderno. Instrumental recitatives are paired with dramatically contrasting polyphonic sections.
The works are short, mercurial, and — apparently — technically challenging. As Castello wrote, “I declare that having observed the modern style, I could not have made them any easier.”
The Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Richard Egar is more that up to the challenge. Renaissance wind instruments like the early trombone, cornetto, and dulcian (sort of a bassoon) are notoriously hard to play, yet all sound with a purity of tone and warm expression that makes every phrase a gem. The ensemble is well-recorded, with a warm ambiance of a small chamber, but play cleanly so every note is discernable.
If you wish Monteverdi had written more instrumental music, this is the album for you. That’s not to say that Castello imitated Monteverdi, but they were both writing according to the “modern style.” Like Monteverdi’s madrigals, Castello’s 30 sonate concertate are rich in variety and inventiveness.
Dario Castello: Sonate concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo
The Academy of Ancient Music; Richard Egar, director, harpsichord & organ