For some periods of its long history Venice was the most alive and artistically innovative city in Italy. Around the turn of the seventeenth century it was more – the veritable music capital of Europe. Musicians from north and west Europe stayed there to learn from the composers, instrumentalists and singers who had either been born in Venice, or had themselves gravitated to the Republic's glorious and inspiring cultural (and physical) environment. Only Dario Castello (fl. 1600-1630) of those composers presented here falls into the first category.
Born in Brescia around 1571, Giovanni Battista Fontana lived in Venice, Rome and Padua, where he died during the plague of 1630. His music surprises by the mastery of counterpoint, the simplicity and the expression of its slow movements, the complexity of its ornamentation and the elegant vivacity of its short dance sections. Nicknamed 'dal Violino' and described as "one of the most singular virtuosos the age has seen". Fontana has left us an outstanding example of early Baroque instrumental music. On this release, Daniel Cuiller leads the ensemble Stradivaria in a selection of sonatas.
About Dario Castello and Giovanni Battista Fontana, two Italian composers from the turn of the 17th century, musical scholarship hasn’t much to tell us. We know as little about Castello, who was leading an ensemble at St. Mark’s around 1629, as we do about the exact birth and death dates of Fontana, who came from Brescia and probably perished during the 1630 outbreak of plague in Padua. Yet there are a number of surviving works by both men that reveal 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. In his new recording violinist John Holloway has selected a number of sonatas from this collection to couple with similar works by Fontana, some originally for violin as well as some conceived for other string or wind instruments.