Why Francesco Geminiani is not mentioned these days alongside other great masters of the era of Baroque music is a bit of a mystery. Together with Corelli and Handel her was one of the composers who made a great career for himself in eighteenth-century Great Britain. Concerto Köln has not forgotten him, on the contrary: the ensemble pays homage to him as one of the true greats. And now the musicians have chosen their favourite pieces from his entire oeuvre and called it Geminiani’s Quintessence.
He was a composer, virtuoso violinist and itinerant artist, as well as being a dealer and collector of art, a musicographer and musicologist. Francesco Geminiani’s life, and in particular his travels, do not read like the typical story of a more or less sedentary Baroque composer. In comparison with Johann Sebastian Bach, who hardly went beyond a 200 km radius in his entire life, Geminiani was a globetrotter who journeyed to Rome and Paris and as far as Dublin. It would seem that this restlessness is reflected in his music. He was deemed to be capricious, as someone who frequently broke the rules.
Things that are hard to imagine nowadays were common practice back then: works by other composers as well as composers’ own works were re-worked and arranged for other solo instruments or orchestra. In the case of Geminiani, however, the large number of arrangements of his own and other works led to a reputation of being unoriginal and lacking in imagination. His greatest champion and pupil, Charles Avison, as well as other academics of the time were full of praise for his works. As a result of his method of constantly composing and arranging, Geminiani’s entire output can be divided into four categories: his Concerti Grossi and arrangements of them, arrangements of his sonatas as Concerti Grossi, and arrangements of sonatas by other composers as Concerti Grossi. Concerto Köln has chosen works from all four categories for this project, with bassoonist Lorenzo Alpert taking a leading role in selecting those rare works “which we think are the loveliest and most accomplished of his compositions.”
The fact that Geminiani left a host of teaching manuals about playing technique and interpretation was decisive for the ensemble’s interpretation of the works. “These rich sources of information made it possible for us to employ some surprising and unusual stylistic elements in our readings of his Concerti Grossi,” explains Alpert. “They are what led to his special and very personal ‘Quinta Essentia’” which will be available on CD and double vinyl.