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First Play: Elinor Frey, Fiorè: Cello Sonatas

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Editorial Staff

Written by Claire Motyer.

“To me, [Angelo Maria] Fiorè’s sonatas are the essence of musical grace,” says Elinor Frey, baroque cellist and early music specialist, via email. Her new album, Fiorè: Cello Sonatas (due out July 21 on Passacaille) is the first-ever recording of cello sonatas by this composer history seems to have forgotten. The album also features two works for harpsichord by Carlo Ignazio Monza and rare Italian arias for soprano and cello concertante.

“The music is exuberant, alive, fun and confident, and paints a world in which [the composer] believes in what the music is doing,” explains Frey. “It’s urbane, fresh, natural; it knows what it wants to do and it does it, without ever being overstated.”

Frey first became acquainted with Fiorè’s music while living in Como, Italy, researching the history of the baroque cello. During this time, she stumbled upon a manuscript in the public archives that had beautiful cello music, but no author. Frey was able to match one of the discovered sonatas to another known manuscript of Fiorè’s. From there, she was hooked.

“The more I learned about him, the more I thought, ‘Wow, this guy was a special cellist, and his music is really beautiful!’ Also, he’s really at the beginning of ‘violoncello’ repertoire.”

‘Origins of the instrument’

Being among the first sonatas ever written for the cello makes these pieces highly significant.

“Fiorè’s sonatas can help anyone, but especially cellists, get a broader sense of the origins of the instrument,” Frey says.

“I knew that cellos were used in church ensembles for sacred music and in courts for the needs of noble patrons, but now I see more clearly its role in the theatre,” she continues. “Ballarotti, Ziani, Sabadini, Magni, and others featured the cello in their operas. Of course the cello played a major role in the continuo — think of how the lead cellist often plays in recitatives and most arias — but then composers began to give it these obbligato arias.”

‘Instrumental’ voice

Which brings us to the arias included on Fiorè: Cello Sonatas, in which the cello and voice of Suzie LeBlanc create a dynamic repartee. “Used as an ‘instrumental’ voice, the cello can animate and extend the ideas put forth in the words and in the soprano’s music.”

The aria “Amo il regno” and its text particularly inspired Frey to explore how the cello became important in opera at the end of the 17th century, both in real and imaginary ways.

“I imagined a story in which Fiorè was the protagonist in inspiring beautiful opera music for cello,” confides Frey. “It may or may not be exactly true, but for me the fantasy and creativity, and the stories that inspire us — that’s what historical performance practice is all about.”

Also contributing to the project’s authenticity is the fact that Frey recorded the album in the small Italian town of Brenta, situated in the hills above Lago Maggiore, about an hour north of Milan. “Since Fiorè was born in Milan and the arias come from a collection now in Como, I thought it would be interesting to use the sound of a small church within the area.”

Fiorè: Cello Sonatas will be released on July 21. You can pre-order it here.

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