The early-music cellist Renato Criscuolo and his Musica Perduta ensemble have specialised in reviving vocal and chamber music by Italy-based composers from the 17th and 18th centuries, producing well-received albums of Francesco Maria Zuccari (94306), Nicola Porpora (95279), Pergolesi (94763), Handel (94426) and others.
Their latest album revives the name and the music of Rocco Greco, a cellist-composer who can be considered the founder of the distinguished Neapolitan cello tradition that later produced more renowned names such as Lanzetti and Caporale. Few personal details are known of Greco’s life. He lived in Naples during the second half of the 17th century, dying there at some point before 1718. As an instrumentalist recorded as working in the Viceroy of Naples’ private chapel, he was known for his virtuosity on the bass violin, a forerunner of the cello and tuned one tone below it. The bow was held underhand, like a viola da gamba.
Greco produced a collection of 28 ‘Sinfonias’ – sonatas, we would now call them – for two viols, demanding a virtuoso technique in the quick movements and the opportunity for elaborate ornamentation in the slow movements. Criscuolo intersperses 13 of these sinfonias with brief and untitled movements and with instrumental contrafacta of a pair of motets by Greco. To perform and record this music for the first time in the modern era, he and his colleague Andrea Lattarulo have used modern copies of bass violins, playing at Neapolitan pitch and joined in some of the sinfonias by a light continuo accompaniment or theorbo, harpsichord and/or chamber organ.
Praise for Musica Perduta on Brilliant Classics:
‘Exceptionally well done’ (Zuccari: Fanfare)
‘This is a lot of fun… The ensemble, like the cellist, plays with sensitivity and personality, and the music never is close to sounding bland or unimaginative’ (Porpora: Fanfare)
‘I was impressed by the richness of sound that this little band (a septet, really) manages to produce… the overall impact is simply stunning.’ (Handel: Fanfare)
- The Neapolitan composer Rocco Greco (mid 1600s – 1718) was an instrumentalist at the Cappella Vicereale whose compositions include 28 sinfonie à due viole and eleven pieces of instrumental music that were probably the incipit of a Gregorian antiphon. They are preserved in a single volume of manuscript scores that includes music by Gaetano Francone and Bononcini. In all likelihood it belonged to an amateur bass violin or cello player, since in southern Italy in the late 17th century the world viola was used to refer to what was known as the basse de violon in France, the bass Geige in Germany and bass violin in England. In Italy, on the other hand, various terms were used for the instrument, including violone basso.
- Rocco Greco can be considered the founder of the great Neapolitan cello tradition that was to develop with virtuosi such as Alborea, Supriani, Lanzetti and Caporale. His use of highly advanced technique comes to the fore in the Sinfonias 2 and 3, which differ from the others on account of the technical sophistication of the first viola part.
- The Sinfonias for bass violin, violin and basso continuo consist of 2 or 3 movements. They are performed on copies of original bass violins.
Another enterprising recording project by Renato Criscuolo and his Musica Perduta, who already discovered and recorded music for cello by Caporale, Porpora, Zuccari, Handel and Pergolesi.