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Concertos of the Italian Baroque

[I] Tomaso ALBINONI (1671 - 1751): "Homage to a Spanish Grandee: Concertos from Op. 10"
Collegium Musicum 90
Dir: Simon Standage

rec: Nov 11 - 13, 2009, London, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead
Chandos - CHAN 0769 (© 2010) (69'15")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & booklet

Concerto I in B flat, op. 10,1; Concerto II in g minor, op. 10,2; Concerto III in C, op. 10,3; Concerto V in A, op. 10,5; Concerto VII in F, op. 10,7; Concerto VIII in g minor, op. 10,8; Concerto XI in c minor, op. 10,11; Concerto in XII in B flat, op. 10,12

[II] "Venetian Oboe Concerti"
Marc Schachman, oboe
American Classical Orchestra
Dir: Thomas Crawford

rec: Jan 11 - 12, 2010, New York, American Academy of Arts and Letters
Centaur Records - CRC 3108 (© 2010) (50'55")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & tracklist

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in d minor, op. 9,2; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in C, op. 9,5; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor (HWV 287); Alessandro MARCELLO (1684-1750): Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in d minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in a minor (RV 461)

Sources: Tomaso Albinoni, [1] Concerti a cinque, op. 9, 1722; [2] Concerti a cinque, op. 10, 1735/36

The populary of Antonio Vivaldi's music is huge, as the never-ending flow of new recordings shows. Unfortunately that goes at the cost of many of his Italian contemporaries who don't receive the attention they deserve. Tomaso Albinoni is one of those. His huge amount of operas and other vocal works are almost completely neglected, and even his instrumental oeuvre seldom makes it to the concert platform and to CD. It is to Simon Standage's credit that he, with his ensemble Collegium Musicum 90, has recorded several of Albinoni's collections of concertos for the British label Chandos. The latest fruit of his activities in this field is the recording of eight concertos from opus 10.

This opus was only discovered in the 1960's. Before it was assumed his opus 9 was his last collection of instrumental music. This has become quite popular, in particular the Concerto in d minor, the second from this collection, with a part for solo oboe. More about that later. In his liner-notes Michael Talbot shows some surprise that the opus 10 has been largely ignored by performers. But he states that two complete recordings exist - not that bad, considering the relative neglect of Albinoni's oeuvre as a whole.

Albinoni is a remarkable figure in the music world of his days in that he presented himself as a dilettante. His father was a businessman, and when he died Albinoni inherited his business. But he left it to his younger brothers to take care of it, in order to devote himself to music. Despite being a dilettante he was highly respected. It also seems that he could make a living as a musician. The opus 10 was dedicated to the Marquis de Castelar, Don Luca Fernando Patiño. He had come to Italy as a commander in the War of the Polish Succession which liberated Naples from the Habsburg empire (hence the title of this disc). The city became a kingdom under a member of the Bourbon dynasty. Talbot suggests Albinoni could have met the marquis during the latter's visit to the opera in Venice. The Concerto XI includes imitations of the guitar which can be considered a reference to the marquis' descent.

Talbot characterises the concerti of opus 10 as a "galant capital mounted on a baroque pillar". One the one hand they reflect the idiom of the Neapolitan school which was conquering Italy since the 1720s. "But if one looks instead at the bass lines, they are seen to retain the steady, even tread of their counterparts going right back to the time of Albinoni's Op. 2 (1700) and Op. 5 (1707), albeit broken up by a few more rests". He also mentions the fact that only two concertos contain extended solo parts for the violin, which is at odds with the latest trends as reflected in, for instance, the oeuvre of Tartini and Locatelli. One can conclude that Albinoni was his own man, largely independent from what was the fashion of his days.

It is praiseworthy that Simon Standage pays so much attention to Albinoni. But it is more than questionable whether he has done the composer a great favour with his performances. In the 1970s and 1980s British baroque ensembles recorded Vivaldi's music frequently. Their performances met general praise, as we didn't know any better and they were a great improvement in comparison to the traditional performances on modern instruments. Since the 1990s we know that this repertoire can be performed from a different angle, thanks to the efforts of many Italian orchestras. Their performances are more dramatic and theatrical, and explore their contrasts and the virtuosity to the full. In that respect one feels catapulted back in time if one listens to these performances of Albinoni's concertos from opus 10.

The playing is neat and technically impeccable. But on the whole these performances are dull, and there is little difference between the concertos. Michael Talbot points out the characteristics of every single concerto, but very little of that comes out in the actual performances. "For Albinoni, G minor is always a key of turgid emotions, as the forceful rhetoric of the opening Allegro [of Concerto II] shows". I don't hear it. The Concerto VII "exudes the spirit of opera buffa", but you wouldn't guess if he wouldn't have mentioned it. The "gently rocking effect" in the middle movement of Concerto V is rather feeble in Collegium Musicum 90's performance. The fast movements are too slow, and the slow movements too fast. As nice as it is that these concertos are recorded, on balance this disc is a pretty disappointing affair.

I have already mentioned Albinoni's Concerto in d minor, op. 5,2. Its popularity is mainly due to the extraordinarily beautiful slow movement. The melody has inspired many arrangements - often quite tasteless - and is used even in documentaries or television commercials. This melody was expected to be ornamented by the interpreter, and that is exactly what Marc Schachman does. And he does so brilliantly, making this concerto one of the highlights of his disc, which is entirely devoted to oboe concertos of the 18th century.

His programme is rather conventional: all concertos belong to the best-known of the baroque era. That includes the Concerto in d minor by Alessandro Marcello. This was arranged for solo harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. Schachman decided to use his ornaments of the solo part in the adagio. That is a nice idea, but these are conceived with the harpsichord in mind. I would have preferred Schachman's own ornamentation instead. Handel only composed three oboe concertos, although he stated that the oboe was his favourite instrument. That comes especially to the fore in the many, often virtuosic obbligato oboe parts in his operas, which were usually played by Giuseppe Sammartini. The concertos belong to the best of the genre, though, and Schachman gives a nice reading. Vivaldi's Concerto in a minor (RV 461) is one of the more than 20 oboe concertos he has written, and one of the best-known.

I often complain when a performer chooses only well-known stuff, but in this case Schachman can be forgiven as his performances are exquisite and highly expressive. The American Classical Orchestra is equally impressive in the tutti. This disc has everything which I have missed in Albinoni's concertos from opus 10 which Collegium Musicum 90 has recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

American Classical Orchestra

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