John Holloway’s recordings for ECM New Series have included many exhilarating and inspired accounts of baroque small ensemble music, and cast new light on composers including Biber, Schmelzer, Veracini and Leclair. If little is known about the lives of Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana, subjects of Holloway’s newest disc, surviving works by both men show them to have been remarkable composers for the violin. Two books by Castello of Sonate concertate in one to four parts, in stil moderno with continuo, were printed during the composer’s lifetime. For this album, Holloway has selected a number of sonatas from this collection to couple with analogous works by Fontana, some originally for violin as well as some conceived for other string or wind instruments. Along with solo violin sonatas, he has chosen six of these sonatas for violin and basso continuo which can be regarded as precursors of the later trio sonata or even as early examples of that genre.
In the late 16th century new musical developments were taking place in Northern Italy, particularly Venice, where (as liner writer Peter Holman points out), forward-looking musical institutions increasingly preferred to use the violin combined with wind and continuo instruments rather than the lower members of its own family.
In the present recording, made at the St. Gerold monastery in the Austrian Alps, the long-established musical team of Holloway and harpsichord Lars Ulrik Mortensen is joined by Jane Gower playing the dulcian, the renaissance predecessor of the bassoon. The ensemble understanding revealed here by this trio is at once remarkable – in their hands, this is living, pulsing music, dynamic and constantly in movement. “The joys of performing this music are many and various,” Holloway says in his performer’s note, “its mood changes and improvisatory character demand, and reward, a willingness to take risks, to live dangerously, in the moment. It is noticeable how much ornamentation is written into the music, and indeed the juxtaposition of sometimes wildly ornamented passages and simple, plain phrases is surely important for the element of dramatic contrast which is so essential to this music (...) The art lies in the ‘spontaneity’ in the performance of the composers’ ornaments. It’s difficult to put into words the pleasure and enjoyment we have got from this project.” That sense of pleasure is tangible.
Holloway took up baroque violin in the early 1970s. With his baroque ensemble, L’Ecole d’Orphée, he made the first complete recording on historical instruments of Handel’s instrumental chamber music. Since then his growing chamber music and solo discography has ranged from Castello and Fontana to Vivaldi, Telemann and beyond. His recording of Biber’s "Mystery Sonatas" won a Gramophone Award in 1991, and remains the reference recording of this music. He was awarded two Danish Grammys for recordings of music by Buxtehude. Since 1997 he has made a number of acclaimed recordings for ECM New Series, including the Sonatas and Partitas for Violin solo by Bach.
One of the most experienced concertmasters in the ‘Early Music’ world, he has led orchestras for such diverse directors as William Christie, Christopher Hogwood, Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, Jean-Claude Malgoire, Nicholas McGegan, and was for many years concertmaster of Roger Norrington’s London Classical Players and Andrew Parrott’s Taverner Players. In 1999 he was appointed Professor of Violin (modern and baroque) and Chamber Music at the Hochschule für Musik in Dresden, Germany. Since 2006 he has been Artistic Director of the International Competition and Masterclass "Violin in Dresden".
Lars Ulrik Mortensen studied at The Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, and with Trevor Pinnock in London. From 1988 to 1990, he was harpsichordist with London Baroque and until 1993 with Collegium Musicum 90. He now works extensively as a soloist and chamber-musician all around the world, performing regularly with distinguished colleagues including Emma Kirkby, John Holloway and Jaap ter Linden. Active as a conductor for "modern" orchestras in Sweden and Denmark, where especially his activities at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen met with great critical acclaim, he has, since 2003, devoted himself exclusively to work with period instrument ensembles. Lars Ulrik Mortensen has received many prizes and distinctions, among them the Danish Music Critics' Award in 1984, and in 2007 The Léonie Sonning Music Prize. In 2008 he was made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
A specialist on historical bassoon, Jane Gower received her Bachelor of Music with High Distinction, from the Canberra School of Music in 1992. She has appeared as principal bassoonist with orchestras such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Freiburger Barockorchester, Les Arts Florissants, The Academy of Ancient Music, Philharmonia Baroque and La Petite Bande. In 2005, she was appointed principal bassoonist of both Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s orchestras, the English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Her current chamber music projects include concert tours with harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen and recorder player Genevieve Lacey, as well as trio concerts with Mortensen and John Holloway. She also leads the quartet Island which specializes in early 19th century repertoire for bassoon, violin, viola and cello. Gower gives regular lectures and master classes and since 2007 has been a Professor at the Royal College of Music, London.