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Tomaso ALBINONI (1671 - 1751): "Sinfonie a Cinque op. 2"

Ensemble 415
Dir: Chiara Banchini

rec: May 26 - 30, 2008, Paris, Église Évangelique Allemande
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT090202 (© 2008) (54'11")

Sonata I in G; Sonata II in C; Sonata III in A; Sonata IV in c minor; sonata V in B flat; Sonata VI in g minor

Chiara Banchini, Eva Borhi, violin; Peter Barczi, Patricia Gagnon, viola; Gaetano Nasillo, cello; Michael Chanu, double bass; Evangelina Mascardi, theorbo; Michele Barchi, harpsichord

In his programme notes Olivier Fourès complains about the fact that Albinoni is mostly known because of an adagio which was written 200 years after his death and that his oeuvre "goes totally unnoticed alongside that ineffably slow juggernaut". That is highly exaggerated. It is true that the largest part of Albinoni's vocal music has still to be rediscovered, but his instrumental works haven't fared that badly on disc. In particular his Opus 7 and Opus 9 - Concertos for strings and bc with one and two oboes - are certainly not unknown and have been recorded by Christopher Hogwood and Simon Standage, among others. More than that, the same Sinfonie a cinque which the Ensemble 415 has recorded on this disc were already available, in a recording by the Italian ensemble Insieme strumentale di Roma under the direction of Giorgio Sasso (Stradivarius).

Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni was born and died in Venice. Just like the Marcello brothers he presented himself as a dilettante, meaning that he wasn't a professional composer and didn't compose for a living. His father was a stationer and manufacturer of playing cards who owned several shops in Venice. Tomaso, being the eldest son, was supposed to take part in his father's business, and so he did. But he also was able to study music; with whom is not known. When in 1709 his father died Tomaso left the business to his two younger brothers in order to spend all his time to music. From then on he called himself musico di violino. Since in 1721 one of his father's creditors took over the shop he must have earned a living from his musical activities.

In 1715 and 1722 two collections of 12 Concertos each were published, both for strings and bc, with parts for one and two oboes. These were the Opuses 7 and 9 I have already referred to. These brought Albinoni quite some fame which resulted in him being invited to conduct one of his operas in Munich. The occasion was the marriage of Prince Karl Albrecht - to whose father, elector Maximilian II Emanuel, Albinoni had dedicated his Opus 9 - and Maria Amalia, daughter of the late Emperor Joseph I. A member of the audience sent a very enthusiastic report of the performance to the German theorist Johann Mattheson.

Obviously he wasn't the only one who was impressed by Albinoni. The composer was mentioned in one breath with Corelli and Vivaldi by contemporaries. Johann Sebastian Bach used some of Albinoni's compositions as teaching material and also based four fugues on subjects from Albinoni's opus 2. This is the collection recorded here. That is to say: only the six sonatas from this opus are performed. The collection contains six Sonatas - in the title referred to as Sinfonie - and six Concertos. There is a clear difference between the two categories. The sonatas follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa with its four movements, whereas the concertos are in three movements: fast - slow - fast. Because of this the Opus 2 is a kind of link between the style of the late 17th and the new style of the early 18th century of which Vivaldi is the most prominent representative. The connection to the past manifests itself in the five-part structure: Albinoni requires two violins, two violas - one alto and one tenor -, cello and bc. This was a quite common scoring in the 17th century but fell into disuse since the turn of the century. The Opuses 7 and 9 are also written in five parts, but there the fifth part is for an oboe or a third violin. Both collections require only one viola.

It is quite likely the 'modern' character of the concertos resulted in them being the most popular part of this collection. The six sonatas are well worth being part of the repertoire of today's baroque ensembles, though. The slow movements are without exception very expressive because of their harmonies and Albinoni's great melodic invention. His thematic material is always ear-catching and original. That is also shown by the fast movements which are mostly fugal. The subjects lead to a lively musical discourse which is characterised by a rhythmic vigour. In addition, the five-part texture results into a great depth of sound.

These qualities are underlined in the performances by the Ensemble 415 which are nothing less than brilliant. The players produce a warm and full sound and pay attention to every detail in the score. What makes this recording even more captivating is the rhetorical and eloquent delivery of the musical discourse, with clear but never exaggerated dynamic accents. The expression of the slow movements is explored to the full, whereas the fast movements are given really swinging performances.

I can only strongly recommend this disc because of the originality and expression of Albinoni's music and because of Ensemble 415's superior performances. This disc goes straight to my list of discs of the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Ensemble 415

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