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Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 - 1770): "The Violin Concertos, Vol. 15"

Federico Guglielmoa, Giovanni Guglielmob, Carlo Lazaric
L'Arte dell'Arco
Dir: Giovanni Guglielmo

rec: May 14 - 19, 2006, Sovizzo Colle (Vi., I), Chiesa Santa Maria Annunziata
Dynamic - CDS 591/1-2 (2 CDs) ( 2008) (1.33'30")

Concerto in C (D 8)b; Concerto in C (D 10)a; Concerto in D (D 27)c; Concerto in D (D 35)b; Concerto in E (D 52)b; Concerto in g minor (D 82)c; Concerto in A (D 100)c; Concerto in B flat (D 120)a

There is definitely a growing interest in the music of Giuseppe Tartini which has resulted in several recordings with his music being released in recent years. The two-disc set reviewed here is Volume 15 in a huge project aiming at recording all of Tartini's violin concertos. No less than 135 concertos have been preserved, so this is indeed a major undertaking which in itself deserves much praise. It is even more impressive in the light of the fact that only a small proportion of Tartini's output has been printed, and that the autographs are often very difficult to read, as Nicola Reniero explains in the booklet. But all the effort put into this project certainly pays off, because these concertos are just wonderful pieces of music.

They are very different from most Italian violin music we mostly hear. Tartini belongs to the era between baroque and classicism, and music from this period is still largely neglected. That is certainly the case with Italian music; one could get the impression that after Vivaldi nothing of any substance has been written. Tartini isn't the only Italian composer of this era who has remained in the shadow far too long. Another Italian composer of the later 18th century, Pietro Nardini, also a famous violinist and violin composer, is almost completely ignored as well.

Tartini's critical remarks about Vivaldi's compositions for the violin are frequently quoted. They are indeed useful to explain how different these two men were. Tartini criticised in particular the pyrotechnics in Vivaldi's concertos. His aesthetic ideals were different: like others in his time he was a strong advocate of naturalness in music. He was not the first: in 1720 Benedetto Marcello (1686 - 1739) published a treatise in which he sharply criticised the excrescences in the opera of his days, and decades later Christoph Willibald von Gluck launched his famous opera reform. Tartini did the same in his compositions for his own instrument.

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 Palladians's recent recording with violin sonatas by Tartini (Linn Records), 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. Of the eight concertos there are two with the indication 'adagio', one is a 'largo' and the other five are andantes. One of them is referred to as 'andante cantabile', but the addition 'cantabile' can easily be applied to all concertos, and to all movements, including the allegros which usually open and close these concertos.

The German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson stated that it was melody rather than counterpoint which was the foundation of music. Tartini seems to agree: there is very little counterpoint here, but he certainly knew how to write beautiful melodies. These concertos are full of them, and listening to these concertos at a stretch is no problem at all, as Tartini time and again comes up with new ideas.

That this set is captivating is also due to the performances. The first volumes in this series were released in the late 1990s and they didn't get very favourable reviews. The playing was technically sometimes under par, and in particular the intonation was often off the mark. In addition the recording wasn't up to contemporary standards. I hadn't heard any later volumes since, so I was curious to know whether these problems had been overcome. I am happy to report that the standard of playing and recording has vastly improved. Yes, there are still moments that the intonation is a little suspect, in particular in virtuosic passages and at the top of the violin's range, and in the ensemble there are also some precarious moments, but they are negligeable in the light of the overall level of performance. The three violinists share the solo parts, and they all do a fine job. They add some ornamentation, in a tastful and never exaggerated way. In some movements they play short cadenzas, and in these the players have captured the spirit of Tartini's music very well.

This volume in the series with all Tartini's violin concertos is an excellent way to get to know his music, and I wouldn't be surprised if it would encourage listeners to further explore his oeuvre. Hopefully the next volumes in this project are going to be as rewarding as this set.

Johan van Veen ( 2009)

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