The Trio Sonata in 17th Century Italy

London Baroque


In their survey of the trio sonata, the four members of London Baroque have already visited France, England and Germany before arriving at the actual birthplace of the genre – Italy in the 17th century. There the years around 1600 had seen ground-breaking developments in vocal music, such as the seconda prattica characterised by the clear division between a single melodic line and a supporting continuo bass. Now instrumental music was becoming important in its own right, and soon the violin was recognized as the ideal vehicle for a new style which is obvious already in the very first trio sonatas, such as Giovanni Paolo Cima’s Sonata a tre from 1610. The term ‘trio sonata’ is a later expression, and in 17th-century Italy the terms commonly used were ‘Sonata a due’ (two melody instruments plus continuo), and ‘Sonata a tre’ (three melody instruments – usually two soprano and one bass – plus continuo). The form could also vary, from ‘free’ sonatas to sets of variations, chaconnes and passacaglias. From this almost bewildering variety, London Baroque has selected 16 works which chart the development from the origins of the genre to its ‘coming of age’ with Arcangelo Corelli, in the 1680s. Already famous in his own lifetime, when he was one of the most influential composers in all of Europe, Corelli is an exception among the composers featured here: many of his colleagues are all but forgotten today, and little is known about their lives. There are also great gaps in our knowledge about the music itself – for instance regarding the instrumentation (what kind of cello would have been used?) and the use of ornaments. In such uncharted waters, London Baroque provides much-needed and expert guidance, as testified to in a review of their recording of sonatas from 17th-century France on the German website Klassik Heute: ‘Everything that one might possibly wish for in a performance of this music is present here: charm, elegance, eloquence, force, flexibility, fire, intimacy, and most importantly: soul.’


"I couldn’t imagine this music better played than it is by London Baroque. Ingrid Seifert and Richard Gwilt prove perfect partners on frequently duelling violins with Charles Medlam’s cello resonantly caught and Steven Devine switching from chamber organ to harpsichord as required. This is foot-tapping stuff, elegant and superbly engineered by BIS." Limelight Magazine

"Their technical skill is first-rate, and they possess the almost instinctual give-and-take one would expect from a premier ensemble that's played together for years" Fanfare

"Played with warmth, the music captures the spirit of the time" The Northern Echo

"They play with verve, grace, wit...neither as dry and academic as one hears from The Purcell Quartet, nor as mannered and aggressive as one hears from some Italian ensembles and groups such as Christina Pluhar's ensemble L'Arpeggiata. The two violins and five-string cello have a delicious bite and Seifert, Gwilt and Medlam produce a wide range of colours and textures without the lazy reliance on vibrato one hears from some performers. Devine is a delightfully buoyant keyboard player and his alternation between chamber organ and harpsichord introduces some welcome variety of texture into the programme. As ever with London Baroque recordings, very highly recommended." Andrew O'Connor, International Record Review