Geminiani - Alison McGillivray - Music-Web International

Geminiani was a virtuoso violinist who studied composition in Rome with Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti before travelling around Europe, spending eighteen years in London and eventually settling in Ireland. He is best known for several sets of Concerti Grossi (which can be sampled on two excellent Naxos discs - 8.553019 and 8.553020) but also wrote sonatas for his own instrument or the cello. This disc presents the six sonatas Op.5 for cello and bass continuo which were first published in Paris in 1746. Little seems to be known about their origins. Geminiani recycled some of his music and, interspersed between the sonatas, are various pieces for solo harpsichord, some of which are reworkings of material he had used previously. Each of the first five sonatas is in four movements and follows a basic slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, the last omits the second slow movement. We are not overburdened with late baroque cello sonatas and these are splendidly imaginative works, on a par with those of Vivaldi. The second and sixth, both in minor keys, plumb considerable emotional depths and are perhaps the finest.

In the booklet, cellist Alison McGillivary tells us that she is taking a long holiday from playing on metal strings. Here she plays a baroque cello dating from around 1715, the other instruments are recently made copies. Pitch is set at A=415Hz. She offers sensitive, committed playing and is very well-accompanied. Indeed David McGuinness's harpsichord frequently sparkles and is balanced to be almost an equal partner. In the solo works he is also on top form and it is particularly interesting to hear the fourth cello sonata reworked in this way. There are excellent notes on the music by Alison McGillivary and the recording is dedicated to her teacher, Jennifer Ward Clarke.

This disc is the first I have heard from the Scottish company Linn, whose audio systems have an excellent reputation. It is an SACD hybrid but I have only listened in standard CD stereo format, in which it sounds absolutely first-rate. In summary, this is high quality playing and production of rarely heard music by a composer yet underestimated by history, and it would be well worth seeking out.

01 December 2005