John Holloway / Lars Ulrik Mortensen / Jane Gower DARIO CASTELLO - GIOVANNI BATTISTA FONTANA Sonate Concertate In Stil Moderno

This collection of pieces from the first generation of Baroque violin music presents almost unknown but highly distinctive and exciting compositions, superbly performed and recorded. The music here was recorded in 2008 and not issued until 2012, perhaps due to ECM's unease over marketing works that even Baroque enthusiasts may not have heard of. These pieces come from Venice, probably during the 1620s. They point the way toward the Baroque duo and trio sonata, still decades in the future, but they're artistically coherent unto themselves. The works of both composers, Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana, represent a stage in the application of the discoveries of Monteverdi's seconda prattica to independent instrumental music: the lines of the melody instruments have the rhythmic freedom of early opera but are shaped into abstract structures that may be quite startling. Sample the Sonata Nona for fagotto e violino (bassoon and violin) of Fontana (track 5), where the violin is withheld until well into the piece. The relationships among the instruments are constantly changing, and the gorgeous sounds of the instruments used here makes a major contribution: the bassoon of Jane Gower is a dulcian, an immediate ancestor of the modern bassoon, and John Holloway's Baroque violin is a flashing, multi-hued wonder. With superior engineering from ECM in the Propstei St. Gerold (an Austrian mountain monastery beloved by European audiophile engineers), this is a group of highly variegated, dynamic small pieces, a real Baroque find. (James Manheim)

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