D'Alay Dresden Concertos Reale Concerto Dynamic CDS7982

Mauro D’Alay (c.1687-1757)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor
Violin Concerto in D major
Violin Concerto in B-flat major
Violin Concerto in B-flat major “For Anna Maria”
Violin Concerto in F major (also attributed to Carlo Zuccari)
Violin Concerto in D major “For Anna Maria”
Daniele Fanfoni, Luca Fanfoni (violin)
Reale Concerto
rec. 2022, Digitube Studio, Mantova, Italy
First recordings
Dynamic CDS7982 [65]

At some point, musicologists are going to run out of drawers, cupboards and folders in which to find manuscripts of previously unknown (and hence unrecorded) works, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen any time soon. Here we are presented with a disc of six concertos, recorded for the first time (I refuse to call them world premieres – where else might they have been recorded? Mars?).

Mauro D’Alay was a new name to me. He was born in Parma, and quickly gained a reputation as a solo violinist, even acquiring a Stradivarius, which would, after his death, find its way to the great violinist Giovanni Viotti. D’Alay spent time in Venice (and the Vivaldi influence is not hard to discern), London and particularly Madrid, where he was employed in the court of Philip V. Here he would have mingled with Domenico Scarlatti and the famous castrato Farinelli.

The first five concertos on this disc are called “Dresden Concertos” because they come from a collection held in that city. The booklet notes that he spent some time in Germany, but not Dresden specifically. The final concerto comes from a collection in Venice compiled by Anna Maria della Pieta, to whom Vivaldi also dedicated works.

Clearly violinist Daniele Fanfoni, his ensemble and the Dynamic label believe in D’Alay. This is the second disc of concertos that these performers have recorded for the label. The first, released in 2021 and reviewed by Dominy Clements, was of a group of twelve concertos, his Opus 1. Not only has the label expended the money to record and produce the two releases, and the performers to learn the music, but in the case of the Dresden concertos, some amount of reconstruction was required where orchestral parts were missing.

So we have a composer of some standing during his lifetime, and a group of artists committed to his music. It is a shame, therefore, that all this effort, care and attention has offered up rather unremarkable music, and I use the word unremarkable in its literal sense. I am struggling to find useful remarks about it. Certainly it is pleasant and tuneful, but entirely unmemorable. I’m not alone in this conclusion: Dominy Clements summed up the Opus 1 concerto discs by saying “I can’t help feeling there was a fair reason for D’Alay’s oblivion for the last two and a half centuries”.

While there is no doubt that much of the fault for the unmemorable sixty-five minutes can be laid at the door of the composer, there are some problems with the performances as well. In the faster passages, the quality of the sound produced by the soloists does rather deteriorate (Dominy noted this as well). Also, the ensemble Reale Concerto only comprises seven string players, one or two of them as soloists, plus chamber organ (which is much more subtle than I’d imagined), and the net effect is rather thin. The booklet notes provide good background on D’Alay, but nothing about the musical nature of the individual works, which the cynic in me might suggest is because there isn’t much to say about them.

I can’t say that I’m too surprised by the underwhelming experience; the catalogue is full of recordings of little-known (now) Baroque composers whose music is pleasant but no more. I requested the disc so that it got a review, and despite my negative comments, I don’t regret the time spent listening. If you are keen on exploring the byways of the Baroque era, neither will you, but just don’t expect too much.

David Barker

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