Album Title: Concerti & Sonate
Performer: Nicola Fiorenza,
Dolce & Tempesta / Stefano Demicheli
Label and album #: Fuga Libera FUG 549
Play Time:
Recorded: Teatro Primo Ferrari di San Marcello, September 2008

As I deepen my understanding of music, it's become more and more obvious that disc labels can be very reliably split into two categories; quick and huge hits with huge marketing dollars at one end and smaller, innovative and creative labels at the other end of the spectrum. Linn Records and 2L clearly belong into the second camp and you can expect to read more reviews about their exciting catalogs. Today it is time for me to introduce you to a trio of labels from Belgium that deserve all your attention for more than one reason.

Alpha, Fuga Libera and Ricercar are three labels from the same editor - or more accurately three collections each with their own artistic director and specific mission. Founded in 1999, Alpha focuses primarily on educating us on the evolution of music over geographies and times, tracing the intricate relationships between local folklores and popular tunes whether found in tavern songs, harvest dances or more 'serious' compositions. La Tarantella earned one of my 'favorite discoveries of 2008' and remains an absolute favorite of mine.

Ricercar founded in 1980 by Jerome Lejeune has had two foci over its almost 30-year history. It is primarily known as a label dedicated to early music, exploring themes such as German baroque music; the organ works of J.S. Bach and his German predecessors, Franco-Flemish polyphonic music; Monteverdi's sources of inspiration and his influence; the discovery of early instruments and medieval secular monody. But Ricercar has also played a critical and far lesser known role in resurrecting music by Belgium composers such as Gretry, Lassus, DuMont and Franck. The sublime recording of Gretry's La Caravane du Caire is actually how I first discovered Ricercar and came to appreciate the spirit of this editor.

Today's topic is actually their youngest although most prolific collection Fuga Libera directed by Michel Stockhem. Created in 2004, Fuga Libera is a more 'generalist' label than the other two although with tremendous care and attention given to content quality, recording quality and presentation but perhaps slightly less risk-taking with programs and musicians.

That said, I had never heard of Nicola Fiorenza before Fuga Libera brought him to my attention with this disc. But I was definitely familiar with the Dolce & Tempesta period ensemble. And that's about as mainstream as Fuga Libera will go. Even if the admitted mission of this collection is a broader appeal, Fuga Libera has not renounced on educating us by any means.

Very little is known about Nicola Fiorenza although his date of death (1764) is fairly certain. His birth is estimated circa 1700 and most of the thirty-some compositions attributed to him are only loosely dated (and two Cantatas are actually questionable in their attribution). What is known though does not make him a very likeable character. A violin and cello teacher at the Conservatory of Santa Maria del Loreto from 1743 to 1763, Nicola Fiorenza was known for his very irascible and violent complexion. After many complaints, student defections and official warnings Fiorenza was finally fired from office after threatening a student with his sword one too many times.

This is very unfortunate as the few compositions reaching us place him as one of the most innovative masters in the now called Naples school of music, more a geographical grouping than true and unique style but a center of active musical creation in the 17
th and 18th centuries nonetheless. Fiorenza's style is characterized by a freedom from convention with an alternation of lyricism and highly rhythmic passages that come and go seemingly randomly, almost as if matching his own internal turmoil.

The resulting Concerti Grossi are delightful, brilliant and at times deeply emotional. The cello theme recurring throughout the Concerto in Re Magiore is one of the most touching and lyrical I have had a chance to hear, even matching some of Vivaldi's most inspired moments. Sometimes a musical theme seems so natural and unforced that although you hear it for the first time, it comes as déjà-vu. That's what happened to me on this cello concerto. Although a world premiere recording, the music felt part of my cultural heritage like a long suppressed memory. I can't exclude that I may have heard it once in a long forgotten concert but even in that case, the impression was strong and lasting.

You may or may not respond as profoundly as I did to Fiorenza's music but it certainly deserves more than a passing attention, blend as it does Napolitan and Mediterranean 18
th century styles in a very unique voice and manner. As always with this editor, recording quality is truly superior, offers superb instrumental textures and tones, great imaging and a gentle balance of resolution and ambient acoustics.

Dolce & Tempesta does not necessarily enjoy the same notoriety as Giardino Armonico or Europa Galante but should. The ensemble created and directed by organist and clavichordist Stefano Demicheli actually brings together some of the most renowned soloists of the major European baroque ensembles with a spirit of friendship, balance and accord. Whatever brought those musicians together, true harmony transpired in this recording where violins for once truly play second fiddles and instruments like the flute and cello are given a chance to show their technical and emotional virtuosity.

I recommend this recording without any reservation to anybody looking to further explore 18
th century music who is not afraid to veer off the beaten paths.