Il violoncello di Corelli leads us to the origins of the solo cello literature although one should actually use the term violone. In fact, the cello, as we know it today in its standard form, had many different sizes before its current proportions became generally established. Some instruments were larger, and the smaller ones were referred to by the diminutive form of the term violone hence the word violoncello. And one of these early bigger brothers is the main protagonist of this recording: the instrument played by Alessandro Palmeri was built by Simone Cimapane in Rome in 1685. It is a rare testimony to the original size of the violone. It is furthermore a unique instrument because it was used in ensembles in Rome in which Corelli himself played. Alessandro Palmeri presents a compilation of works from the early solo literature for cello by composers such as Domenico Gabrielli, Giuseppe Pietro Gaetano Boni, Giuseppe Colombi and Giovanni Battista Vitali. The extraordinarily prolific period, both artistically and musically, which prevailed in Emilia Romagna throughout the 17th century, provided the conditions for the creation and development of the cello literature. The works on this recording mark the transition from the epoch of the violone to the epoch of the violoncello. With them, the cello was ultimately freed from the continuo role to which it had previously been limited.
This is one of those albums that can be listened to on two levels: one for the enjoyment of the rich, heavily ornamented sound of Andrew Lawrence-King’s Baroque triple harp (the term refers to the instrument’s three rows of strings, a configuration that survives today in Welsh folk music), and one for the music involved and how it fit into the musical and cultural universe of its time. The composers on the disc are familiar — Lully and Campra are responsible for most of the pieces. But the music was taken out of its original surroundings and arranged for solo instruments, the harp being a common one. One use for these arrangements was for the dance lessons of Louis XIV himself, one of history’s few dancer-kings; the arrangements by Jean-Henri d’Angelbert were included in a dance instruction book called Choréographie, compiled by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, which contained perhaps history’s first instance of dance notation. The lavish booklet includes examples of this, and it’s pretty much worth the purchase price on its own. Others at the center of the Sun King’s orbits of power loved dancing and might have heard this music as well: from New Year to Carnival,” a visiting Bavarian princess wrote, “the court just danced and partied.”
What the listener gets here, then, is something of an early dance mix. The pieces are mostly upbeat and short — sometimes very short. They are divided into five sets, beginning with an Entrée and concluding with the weightier and longer Chaconne, which gives Lawrence-King the chance to display his facility with ornamentation on a difficult instrument as it progresses into denser textures. Within each set are a mixture of programatically named pieces and the generic French court dances: sarabande, bourée, and so on. The trick in playing this music, according to one treatise, was to “please the ear, and at the same time to mark the dance rhythms so well, that one feels inspired in spite of oneself with the desire to dance.” Lawrence-King treats the rhythm a bit freely for dancers, or even foot-tappers, but the subtle touch of his ornaments reveals something new each time one listens to it. The music of the French court remains the least understood aspect of the whole Baroque period, not least because performing organizations today can’t muster the resources necessary to their reenactment. Recordings like this one, that hold onto the music’s original entertainment value while showing us something of how French courtiers heard and enjoyed music, are invaluable. The sound picks up every little detail of Lawrence-King’s harp, some of which are as quiet as the sounds of a Chinese zither.
— James Manheim (allmusic.com)