Early Baroque gems from Varie Sonate of Giovanni Battista Vitali

For the average person, I think, the term “Italian Baroque” conjures up the music of Vivaldi. But the Italian Baroque really began around 1600, and it took a while for the music — and the instruments — to complete the transition from the Renaissance.

What struck me most about this collection of sonatas by Giovanni Vitali is how old they sounded. And by that, I meant stylistically. Vitali played the violini, sort of a transition instrument from the Renaissance bass viol to the modern cello.

The Italico Splendore has both cello and viola da gamba players. Their sonorous sounds give the music a very dark, rich quality. And — to my ears — a more than passing similarity to the music of Marin Marais, a younger contemporary of Vitali’s.

The sonatas are based on dances. some slow and stately, and others delightfully quick and light. Vitali scored the music for three violins, two violas, and basso continuo. Generally, the basso continuo consisted of a bass stringed instrument and a keyboard. The bass line was always written out. Chord symbols provided a guide for the harpsichordist, who was expected to improvise.

In these works, Vitale makes a note that the middle violin and viola are also ad libitum. This gives ensembles a lot of leeway — and responsibility — when performing the music.

Italico Splendore made some very smart and historically informed decisions. They used Vitali’s instructions as an opportunity to vary the makeup of the ensemble from sonata to sonata. The result makes for an engaging program, with the character of the music changing from piece to piece.

This is the penultimate installment of Tactus’ Vitali series. It’s provided a wonderful survey of his instrumental music. I’m curious to discover what works they’ll close the series with.

Giovanni Battista Vitali: Varie Sonate, Op. 11, 1684
Italico Splendore
Tactus TC 632206

More Recent Posts