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Recordings

Francesco Onofrio Manfredini: 12 Concerti op. 3
31 May 2006

MANFREDINI: 12 Concerti op. 3

The general aversion of the listening public to vocal music can nowhere be more easily seen than in the comparative success of the operatic and instrumental works of the Italian baroque.

Francesco Onofrio Manfredini: 12 Concerti op. 3

Les Amis de Philippe; Ludger Rémy.

cpo 999 638-2 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

Any Italian composer with some degree of success ( i.e. published works) must by now have multiple recordings of multiple concerti available on disc. Think of Leonardo Leo, Francesco Durante, Tommaso Albinoni, Francesco Manfredini. And yet virtually nothing in the way of operas is available on recordings from these same figures. Listening to vocal music takes a level of music concentration beyond that necessary for consumption of instrumental music, beginning with a willingness to enter the poetry of the text and the drama of the plot, and for most listeners, grappling with a language that is not their native tongue. Instrumental music is far more accessible. All this means that the present disc is far from a discographic debut.

Manfredini was from the provinces, born in Pistoia, and spending most of his career there. Then, as now, Pistoia was hardly a leading cultural center in Tuscany. Manfredini studied and was employed as violinist in Bologna as a young man, spent several years in Monaco, but returned to Pistoia in 1724 as choir director at the Cathedral, and remained there until his death in 1762. All of his published works were issued in Bologna between 1704 and 1718 (the concertos, op. 3), with one posthumous collection issued almost fifty years later in London.

These concertos are short (three movements, usually under seven minutes), easily digestable, far from challenging, the sort of thing you might expect on the radio between seven and nine AM, say. That is their virtue and their defect. They are well-made, but there is as much difference between the various concertos as there is between the contents of a nice box of petit-fours. Individually, they may be sweet and tasty, but only the hardiest or most gluttonous could imagine eating the whole box. Cloying, in a word. It is revealing that "in order to offer the hearer a varied listening experience" (in the words of the note), the producers have chosen to present the works out of numerical order.

As far as I know, this is the third complete recording of the set, with a deluxe set on Vox back in the glory days of the Italian baroque concerto on disc (1956), and a more recent set on Naxos. The Naxos set, by the Capella Istropolitana, is more in the vein of the modern performance on modern instruments, full tone, vibrato, etc., and Rémy and party follow the "historically-informed performance line", but it is not enough to bring these weak pieces back to life.

Tom Moore

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