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CD reviews

Giuseppe Tartini and his world

[I] Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 - 1770): "Violin Concertos"
Chouchane Siranossian, violin
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Andrea Marcon
rec: Sept 2019, Treviso, Teatro Eden
Alpha - 596 (© 2020) (79'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto in d minor (D 44); Concerto in d minor (D 45); Concerto in e minor (D 56); Concerto in G (D deest); Concerto in A (D 96)

Gianpiero Zanocco, Giacomo Catana, Mauro Spinazzè, Matteo Marzaro, Giorgio Baldan, Francesca Bonomo, David Mazzacan, Giuseppe Cabrio, violin; Alessandra Di Vincenzo, Marialuisa Barbon, viola; Massimo Raccanelli, Federico Toffano, cello; Alessandro Pivelli, double bass; Andrea Marcon, harpsichord; Giulio De Nardo, organ

[II] Giuseppe TARTINI & Pietro NARDINI: "Arco Magno"
Marie Rouquié, violin; Joseph Cottet, violina, violoncello da spalla; Gabriel Grosbard, violina; Laurie Bourgeois, violaa; Antoine Touché, celloa; Yoann Moulin, harpsichord
rec: Jan 2019, Poitiers, Auditorium Saint-Germain
Passacaille - 1063 (© 2020) (68'52")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Pietro NARDINI (1722 - 1793): Cantabile for violin (and bc?) in G (MR. Ib, Sol10); Sonata for violin and bc in g minor (MR. Ib, sol2); Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (D 86)a; Sonata II for violin and bc ad lib in d minor (Brainard d1); Sonata for violin and bc in F (Brainard F5) (adagio) Sonata for violin and bc in A (Brainard A5) (transp. to G)

Scores Tartini

This year (2020) is the commemoration of the death of Giuseppe Tartini, 250 years ago. He was one of the greatest violinists of his time, who was also much sought after as a teacher. Among his pupils were some of the finest violinists of the second half of the 18th century, such as Pietro Nardini, Thomas Linley and Pieter Hellendaal. He is also an important figure in music history, as he was one of the main advocates of a 'natural' style of composing and performing. His views with regard to instrumental music were not fundamentally different from those of Christoph Willibald Gluck in the field of opera. It is one of the mysteries of our time, and in particular of historical performance practice, that so little of his music is really well-known and that his name seldom appears on the programmes of concerts. The largest part of his oeuvre comprises of violin concertos, but only a handful of these are part of the repertoire of violinists of our time. To date, the catalogue includes only one complete recording of his violin concertos. These performances are respectable, but not always entirely convincing. A real top-class performance of these important works is long overdue. Fortunately, now and then such a performance is released, and although the first recording under review here does not suggest that it is part of a project concerning the recording of all the violin concertos, it is a very important addition to the catalogue, especially as it includes a concerto that only recently was identified as a work from Tartini's pen. The second disc is different, but equally important, as here we get some other specimens of his compositional style, and we also hear some pieces by one of his most famous pupils, Nardini, showing his influence on the next generation.

The six concertos on these two discs show that the preference of naturalness doesn't withhold Tartini from writing demanding solo parts; these concertos are anything but easy. But as William Carter, in the programme notes of a recording of violin sonatas, states, his virtuosity "rises out of a desire to express rather than amaze". And in his view it is his "intense pictorial inward gaze which seems at least as strong as his desire to create 'brave sport' that sets him somewhat apart from his colleages".

Tartini was strongly influenced by literature, in particular poetry. He usually read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch or Tasso before starting to compose. Quotations from these writings are often included in his manuscripts. This poetic inspiration is reflected in his concertos, which are dominated by lyricism and expression of a rather introspective kind. The highlights of the concertos played on these discs are the middle movements. These are also of special concern to the two soloists, not only Chouchanen Siranossian, but also Marie Rouquié. The latter focuses on "what Tartini himself termed cantabilità strumentale: the art of ornamenting slow movements." She argues that there is quite some difference between the slow and the fast movements in the concertos. She refers to manuscript sources which include many ornamented versions. She used these as models for her own ornamentation. A particular interesting item in her programme is the Adagio in F, which is included in the treatise L'art du violon (17982) by Jean-Baptiste Cartier. It is a movement from the Sonata in F (Brainard F5), which shows the abundant ornamentation that seems to be a hallmark of Tartini's own style of playing.

Chouchane Siranossian and Andrea Marcon also turned to historical sources for their interpretation. In the booklet, they refer to one of Tartini's writings, Trattado di musica secondo la vera scienza dell'armonia (1754/R), as well as his Traité des agréments, and in the performance of two of the concertos (D 44 and 45), they could rely on the manuscript of the original ornaments of the slow movements. "The other slow movements and the cadenzas have been ornamented with the aim of remaining faithful to Tartini's style, taking our inspiration from his infinite palette of trills, embellishments, rubatos, scales, appoggiaturas, messa di voce and so on." All of this has resulted in quite wonderful and impressive performances. As I wrote earlier, there is certainly no lack of virtuosity in Tartini's concertos, but it is never virtuosity for its own sake. Even in the slow movements, which are the pinnacle of Tartini's ideal of expression, the solo part is virtuosic, but in a different way. It is the challenge to the interpreter to explore Tartini's performance manners in such a way that the technical aspects don't take away the listener's attention from what the composer wants to say. Siranossian is a top-class violinist, and her performances of the fast movements are impressive, but it is in the slow movements that she shows her qualities as an interpreter. They are played with wonderful subtlety and refinement, and sometimes she reduces the volume to a bare minimum, creating a perfect atmosphere of sincerity, thoughfulness and intimacy. Marcon and his ensemble are the perfect partners, with some excellent tutti playing, and finding the way to allow the solo part to come to its goal.

Marie Rouquié selected four pieces from different stages of Tartini's life. The Concerto in g minor is an early work, whereas the Sonata in A is from a later date. It is performed here in a transposition to G major; the track-list and the liner-notes don't inform us whether this was the decision of the performers (and if so, for what reasons) or it was published in this key by Le Cène, from whose edition it is taken. The programme opens with the Sonata in d minor, which is part of the collection known as Piccole sonate, which are from the later stages of Tartini's life. These sonatas are among his most personal works: he often played them himself, and preferred a performance without accompaniment. They come with a very simple bass line which is optional.

Pietro Nardini was one of Tartini's main pupils, and the teacher's influence manifests itself quite clearly in the two pieces included here. The Sonata in g minor has three movements in the order which became common in the mid-18th century: slow - fast - fast. The first movement is highly ornamented, the second roots in the style of the baroque era, whereas the concluding allegro has the character of a dance. Quite interesting is the Cantabile in G, which has been preserved independently. It is an ornamented slow movement without a bass line. Whether the latter is intentional or the bass line is simply missing, is impossible to tell, as it has not been possible to identify the sonata which it was part of as yet. The performers have created a bass line for this recording.

Marie Rouquié and her colleagues provide excellent performances which do full justice to the poetic and lyrical style of Tartini. These interpretations are full of expression, but there is also some bold playing in the faster movements. This disc not only contributes to our knowledge of Tartini's style, but also of his place in music history.

We really need a full-blooded Tartini renaissance, and this year of commemoration is a good moment to start. These two discs are extremely good contributions, alongside a disc with sonatas, played by Evgeny Sviridov, which I reviewed here recently.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Chouchane Siranossian
Venice Baroque Orchestra

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