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CD reviews

Italian concertos

[I] "Concertos 4 Violins"
Concerto Köln
rec: June 6 - 8, 2019 (live), Leiden (NL), Stadsgehoorzaal
Berlin Classics - 0301419BC (© 2020) (63'13")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672-1749): Concerto a 4 in F, op. 11,9; Pietro CASTRUCCI (1679-1752): Concerto grossso in g minor, op. 3,6; Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Concerto for 4 violins, strings and bc in F, op. 4,12; Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753): Concerto grosso in a minor, op. 7,11; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for 4 violins, strings and bc in D, op. 3,1 (RV 549); Concerto for 4 violins, cello, strings and bc in b minor, op. 3,10 (RV 580)

Sources: Giuseppe Valentini, Concerti grossi, op. 7, 1710; Antonio Vivaldi, L'Estro armonico, op. 3, 1711; Francesco Antonio Bonporti, Concerti a quattro, op. 10, after 1727; Pietro Antonio Locatelli, Introduttioni teatrali & Concerti, op. 4, 1735; Pietro Castrucci, Concerti grossi, op. 3, 1736

soli: Mayumi Hirasaki, Jesús Merino Ruiz, Shunske Sato, Evgeny Sviridov, violin
tutti: Markus Hoffmann, Stephan Sänger, Frauke Pohl, Jörg Buschhaus, Hedwig van der Linde, Antje Engel, violin; Antje Sabinski, Aino Hildebrandt, Claudia Steeb, Chiharu Abe, viola; Alexander Scherf, Candela Gómez, Ulrike Schaar, cello; Jean-Michel Forest, Clotilde Guyon, double bass; Liza Solovey, lute; Artem Belogurov, harpsichord

[II] "Extra Time"
Adrian Chandler, violin
La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler
rec: Feb 8 - 11, 2011a & April 24, 2015b, Winchester, The Hospital of St Cross; August 25 - 26, 2016, London, St John's Smith Squarec; Feb 15, 2018d & Feb 12 - 14, 2019e, Wells, Cedars Hall
Signum Classics - SIGCD641 (© 2020) (72'14")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Sinfonia La Statirac; Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690-1758): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in G (Bre 9)d; Nicola MATTEIS the Younger (c1678-1737): Balletto di Cavalieri Romani, Spagnuoli, e Africani (for Antonio Caldara, Scipione nelle Spagne)c; Ballo (for Antonio Caldara, Cajo Marzio Coriolano)e; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in C 'per Sua Maestŕ Cesarea e Cattolica' (RV 171)e; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F 'per la Solennitŕ di S. Lorenzo' (RV 286)b; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 365; 2nd version)a

The two discs under review here have one thing in common: both include music by the towering figure of Antonio Vivaldi. He was one of the most dominating figures in Italian music life in the first half of the 18th century, whose influence was felt across Europe. The two programmes are very different in character, but in their very own ways they are uncommon.

When Vivaldi started to compose his solo concertos, the genre was still young. Earlier, composers had written music for an ensemble with solo parts for a particular instrument, but it was Vivaldi who laid down the form which was to become the standard until the mid-18th century. One part of his oeuvre is notable as far as his writing for larger instrumental ensembles is concerned: the concertos for multiple instruments. The combination of instruments was different: sometimes he put together instruments from different families, such as violins, recorders and oboes. However, considering that the violin was his own instrument and that he gave it a prominent place in his oeuvre, it can hardly surprise that he composed a number of concertos for two or more violins. Concerto Köln selected two concertos with solo parts for four violins, and added two concertos of the same kind from the pen of Giuseppe Valentini and Pietro Antonio Locatelli.

It seems likely that Vivaldi wrote his concertos for multiple instruments mostly for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietŕ, who mastered a wide range of instruments. However, all but one of the concertos for four violins are included in the collection of twelve concertos which came from the press in Amsterdam in 1711 as the Op. 3, under the title of L'Estro Armonico. Printed editions were first and foremost intended for ensembles across Europe, for instance those connected to an aristocratic court. Although the solo parts are certainly not without technical demands, the main challenge for the interpreters is to weld four performers together, without asking them to lose their personality. That is also specifically mentioned in the liner-notes, as the four soloists come from different backgrounds. "Mayumi Hirasaki, Shunske Sato, Evgeny Sviridov and Jesús Merino Ruiz were shaped differently by their cultural background and pursued different educational paths. This makes the combination of the four all the more compelling". The fact that all of them are members of Concerto Köln, and three of them regularly act as concertmasters, certainly helps to create the ensemble needed in these concertos.

Whereas Vivaldi is one of the most frequently performed composers, the others have remained in his shadow. Locatelli may be the exception; in particular the sixth concerto from his Op. 7, nicknamed Il pianto d'Arianna, is quite popular among performers. Here we get the last piece from his Op. 4, a set of six Introduttioni teatrali and six concertos. Mayumi Hirasaki refers to Locatelli's humour, and therefore I assume that the effects in the solo parts in the first movement are required by the composer. It causes some reaction from the audience; it is the only moment during this live performance that they make themselves heard. The other composers are largely unknown quantities. The Concerto in a minor by Valentini has received some fame through a recording by Musica antiqua Köln. Strictly speaking, it is not a concerto for four solo violins, but rather a concerto grosso whose concertino includes four violin parts. Valentini worked most of his life in Rome and was a pupil of Giovanni Bononcini. He was a violinist, as were all the composers represented on this disc.

The two remaining pieces are also concerti grossi. Francesco Antonio Bonporti made a career in the church; thanks to his social standing, he did not need a job and was what was called at the time a dilettante, just like, for instance, Benedetto Marcello and Tomaso Albinoni. The best-known part of his oeuvre are his Invenzioni for violin and basso continuo. Against the custom of the time, all his collections of music consist of ten - rather than twelve - pieces, and so is his Op. 11, a set of concerti a quattro. Pietro Castrucci was from Rome, and is assumed to have been a pupil of Corelli. However, he and his younger brother Prospero made a career in England. Charles Burney called Pietro "a man of genius, well acquainted with the bow and finger-board of his instrument". His Concerti grossi Op. 3 were printed in London in 1736.

This is an excellent and often exciting recording. Concerto Köln is here a bit like a ship with three captains, or an army with three generals, but that is not a problem. The collaboration is flawless, and they keep each other on their toes. Jesús Merino Ruiz is 'just' one of the violinists, but acts here as his peers' equal. This disc is also a nice mixture of the familiar and the lesser-known, and as such a useful addition to the discography.

The title of the second disc does not reveal what it is about. Basically, it is a collection of recordings which could not find a place on previous discs. In the booklet, Adrian Chandler admits that he often overestimates the amount of music needed for a disc. One could probably say that this disc is a collection of leftovers from the meals he and his colleagues have served in the various projects of recent years. The result is a mixed programme of pieces which are hardly connected. However, Vivaldi is prominently present, as he is the main composer Chandler and his ensemble are interested in.

He is represented with three of his violin concertos. There is something special about all three of them. Two have titles which suggest that they were written for ecclesiastical use. The Concerto in F (RV 286) is one of several concertos which Vivaldi composed for the feast day of St Lawrence (also known as St Lawrence of Rome) on 10 August. It is notable that it comprises four movements; however, the first is little more than a slow introduction to the ensuing andante, and takes just 33 seconds. The second piece with a title is the Concerto in C (RV 171); it has the addition 'per Sua Maestŕ Cesarea e Cattolica', which refers to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna, Charles VI. It was recorded at the same time as the music for the recent disc under the title "The Godfather - Masters of the German & Italian Baroque". One wonders why it was omitted, as that disc takes just over 66 minutes; the addition of this concerto, lasting 11 minutes, shouldn't have caused any problem. Lastly, we get the Concerto in B flat (RV 365). As some other pieces by Vivaldi, it has been preserved in two versions; the main difference is the closing movement. This concerto's first version was included on the disc "The French Connection 2". At the time it was released, the alternative version of the last movement was only available as a digital download. Here we get the complete concerto with the alternative movement.

The rest of the programme is interesting from a different angle. Antonio Caldara was one of the main composers of his time, and during the time he was in the service of the imperial court in Vienna, he composed a large number of vocal works, such as oratorios, serenatas and operas. It was common practice to include a ballet at the end of an act, and the music for such a ballet was mostly written by someone else. Here we get two such ballets, for two different operas by Caldara. The music is from the pen of Nicola Matteis the younger, son of the violinist who made such an impression after his arrival in England, and many of whose compositions have something bizarre about them. There is nothing bizarre here; in both ballet suites, the orchestra includes four trumpets, timpani, two oboes and bassoon. These pieces refer to a genre that needs to be explored. The same goes for Caldara's oeuvre, and especially his large-scale vocal works, for that matter. And I should add the name of Albinoni: his oboe concertos are pretty well-known, but his vocal works are mostly neglected. The programme opens with the overture to his opera La Statira, which interestingly includes parts for pairs of trumpets and oboes.

Lastly, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello. Chandler refers to his growing interest in this composer from Bologna, who for most of his life worked in Germany, first in Munich and then in Stuttgart. A concerto for violin and bassoon from his pen had been included in the programme of "The Godfather"; here we get the Concerto in G for violin, strings and basso continuo. His music was apparently known and performed in Dresden, as this concerto has been preserved in the library of its court chapel.

As one will have noticed, this menu of leftovers is quite interesting, and we can only be grateful that Adrian Chandler decided to put them together on this disc. Even in the oeuvre of the best-known composer, Vivaldi, there are still pieces which are seldom performed and recorded. Even so, the other pieces are the most interesting part of the programme. Although I am convinced that Italian ensembles may deliver different performances, probably with more differentiation in colour and more pathos, I very much appreciate what is on offer here. We get very fine performances of pieces, each of which is of excellent quality. I hope that Chandler will turn his attention to some of the lesser-known composers included here, such as Brescianello and Matteis the younger.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Concerto Köln
La Serenissima

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