CD Review: Maria Giovanna Fiorentino and I Fiori Musicali play Barsanti

Image Courtesy of Maria Giovanna Fiorentino

Back in 2007 when I first entered college, I suddenly had this burning desire to learn to play the recorder. My main reason: I was passionate about Baroque music and wanted to play sonatas with continuo. Although I began with the usual Handel and Telemann sonatas familiar to most players, I soon discovered a wealth of sonatas by obscure Baroque composers including Paisable, Sieber, and Barsanti. The latter, with its rich, Handelian writing and cheerful melodies especially captured my heart after extensive work on more rigorous, violin-like literature. I often yearned in my heart for a lovely recording of these pieces played by a noted recorder artist with fluent technique, yet I could not seem to find one beyond the Naxos one. Finally, after a little social networking magic and research, I finally located such a CD featuring Italian recorder virtuoso Maria Giovanna Fiorentino and her ensemble, I Fiori Musicali.

Until now, I had really never listened to any players outside of Dan Laurin; hence, my recorder perspective with regards to recordings was somewhat limited. Nonetheless, upon popping Fiorentino’s CD in, I was immediately mesmerized into a world of fluid technique, delicate articulation, and musically sensitive, exquisite phrasing. In all of the movements, Fiorentino demonstrated full control of the instrument and its musically expressive capabilities, delicately articulating a full spectrum of effects from the most fluid legato to a crisp but never overbearing staccato. The doctrine of the affections was heeded at all times, fully drawing me into the music and capturing my utmost attention. Fiorentino’s cantabile lines in slower movements were eloquently rendered with smooth, flowing breath control and carefully-rendered ornaments which successfully decorated the melody without distracting from its essence. The “singing” aspect of these movements was never neglected, nor was the more lively and cheerful aspect of the more brisk movements. In particular, Fiorentino’s dance-like renditions of the Minuet of the F major Sonata and the Gavotte in the G Minor sonata – both perennial playing favorites of mine – literally brought sunshine into my car ride and instilled in me a burning desire to re-visit these favorites during my own practice.

Equally important to this musical pleasure was the bass contribution of organist and

Image Courtesy of Maria Giovanna Fiorentino

harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian, who gracefully and delicately accented Fiorentino’s playing, bringing out Barsanti’s complex, rich harmonies. One aspect I found highly fascinating and unusual on this recording was the choice of continuo section instruments and their usage. In all other period instrument recordings that I have listened to, either the harpsichord or the organ is used for keyboards in the continuo section for the entire duration of a given sonata. However, in Fiorentino’s recording, the organ and harpsichord are not only alternated as keyboard continuo during the entire duration of the sonata, but also during an individual movement. Although I found this a bit odd at first, especially when the organ and the harpsichord were playing simultaneously with the recorder, I soon found myself sold on the idea. In the Minuet movement mentioned above, for example, the organ played the theme during the second variation, giving the initial and brilliant illusion that another recorder player was playing alongside Fiorentino. Upon closer inspection of the CD insert, I soon learned that this harpsichord/organ configuration was not two separate instruments, but rather a combo instrument known as the claviorgano. By far the most interesting and musically colorful continuo option I have ever stumbled upon this far!

In conclusion, I could have not asked for a better CD rendition of Barsanti’s delightful sonatas. Musically sparkling with technical and musical treats, Fiorentino’s recording is an absolute must-listen for any fan of recorder, historically informed performance, or quality classical music in general. Though newcomers to recorder or historically informed performance may initially find such recordings rather different from the mainstream, modern-instrument Baroque that they are accustomed to hearing, I Fiori Musicali’s playing and Barsanti’s catchy, refined melodies will undoubtedly capture the hearts of all listeners. Yet I have discovered that this CD is not solely for domestic listening purposes. In my frequent car trips around town to musical rehearsals, church, and even small store errands, I’ve found this recording most delightful in enhancing both my trip and mood. I often leave the car hearing these lovely Baroque melodies in my head for hours afterwards. So, why just stick to Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi? And why stick solely to mainstream HIPP performers? Broaden your Baroque and HIPP horizons with I Fiori Musicali’s exquisitely rendered Barsanti!

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