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Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 - 1760): "Sonatas for solo violin"

Luigi De Filippi, violin

rec: June 2010, Caprarola, Chiesa di Santa Teresa
Challenge Classics - CC72561 ( 2012) (71'12")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata in a minor (Brainard a3); Sonata IV in C (Brainard C1); Sonata X in B flat (Brainard B1); Sonata XIV in G (Brainard G4); Sonata XV in G (Brainard G3); Sonata XVII in D (Brainard D2)

In the baroque era the large majority of compositions was written for voices and/or instruments with basso continuo. Music for a single instrument without a bass part was relatively rare. The main exception was the viola da gamba; in particular in France a considerable repertoire was written for gamba solo. This disc offers sonatas for solo violin without basso continuo by Giuseppe Tartini. He composed 26 of such sonatas and it seems likely that this is by far the largest number of solo sonatas for the violin by any composer of the 18th century.

Tartini was one of a kind anyway. Whereas during the 18th century violin composing and playing increased in virtuosity Tartini took a different path. One could consider him the instrumental counterpart of Christoph Willibald Gluck who aimed at a greater naturalness in opera. Tartini's ideal was the same in instrumental music. He strongly criticised virtuosity as a quality in itself as he observed especially in the work of Vivaldi. 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. There are such indications in the Sonata XVII in D: it opens with an 'andante cantabile' with the addition "Di se senti", and the third movement is called 'aria del Tasso'.

This should not be misunderstood. These quotations are not illustrated, as it were, in the music. They rather delivered the context which was then the starting point for a composition. Basically the connection between the poetry and the music is only known to the composer. A commentator writes: "The poetry of these mottoes (...) reminded Tartini of the emotional mood to be kept in mind in performance, linked to the literary context to which they referred. These affects, clearly, should not be seen as a quest for subjective expression (as will be the case in Romantic music), but as an abstract configuration of feelings with a rhetorical intention (as is characteristic of the period in which the composer lived)." (Stefano Aresi)

One should also not make the mistake to assume that Tartini's music is easy to play. In his early years, when he was already performing in public to great acclaim, he fell into an artistic crisis as he heard Francesco Maria Veracini play. He realised that he couldn't stand in his shadow and withdrew from the concert scene. He concentrated on improving his skills and only then started to play and compose again. If one listens to his solo concertos or to the sonatas which are recorded here one will immediately recognize that Tartini must have been a great virtuoso. However, it must be assessed in the light of what has been written before about Tartini's view on music. As another commentator stated, his virtuosity "rises out of a desire to express rather than amaze". He adds that 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". (William Carter)

In the light of his ideal of 'naturalness' it doesn't surprise that we find descriptions such as cantabile quite frequently in his scores. I have already mentioned the Sonata XVII which opens with an andante cantabile. The Sonata IV in C also begins with a cantabile and so does the Sonata in a minor. The Sonata XIV in G has two movements which are called andante cantabile; the affettuoso from the Sonata X in B flat is quite close in character to this kind of movements. The virtuosic aspect comes to the fore in the frequent use of double stopping, not only in the naturally more extroverted and virtuosic fast movements, but in slow movements as well. In some movements the violin quickly moves from treble to bass; the low notes are strongly reminiscent of the basso continuo practice.

It is not only the affetti in the music which reflect Tartini's interest in poetry. Even in the structure one tends to see poems shine through. The presto which closes the Sonata IV is a good example. The whole movement is divided into short sentences, separated by short pauses, like lines from a poem.

If one looks at the manuscript, called 26 Piccole Sonate (the link is given in the header), one will notice that a number of sonatas have a basso continuo part. We know from letters by Tartini that these parts are later additions, and that he preferred them to be played without basso continuo.

So far I have only come across one other recording of solo sonatas, performed by Chiara Banchini. It is a matter of good fortune that only two pieces are included into both recordings: the Sonata XVII in D and Sonata in a minor. The latter ends in De Filippi's recording with a grave which is not played by Banchini; I have no explanation for that. Considering the quality and character of Tartini's music we can only be very happy that four sonatas are added to the catalogue. The playing by Luigi De Filippi is an additional reason to welcome this disc: it is not only technically impressive, the lyrical and poetical aspects come off convincingly. He also has a very good sense of the rhythmic pulse; the menuet from the Sonata X, for instance, is performed as a piece of dance music.

If you like the baroque violin, you shouldn't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Luigi De Filippi

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