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"Angel Devil Priest - Leclair, Locatelli & Vivaldi: Violin Concertos"

Rüdiger Lottera, Chouchane Siranossianb, violin
Hofkapelle München
Dir: Rüdiger Lotter

rec: May 18 - 21, 2015, Munich, Bayerischer Rundfunk (Studio I)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875115832 (© 2015) (71'46")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Leclair
Scores Locatelli
Score Vivaldi

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor, op. 10,6b; Scylla et Glaucus, op. 11 (1er Air de Démons; 2e Air de Démons; 3e Air de Démons); Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI 1695-1764): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D, op. 3,1b; Concerto grosso in E flat, op. 7,6 'Il pianto d'Arianna'a; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in d minor (RV 514)ab

Rüdiger Lotter, Silvia Schweinberger, Ulrike Cramer, Dmitry Lepekhov, Fiona Stevens, Marie Radauer-Plank, Iveta Schwarz, Anna Barbara Kastelewicz, Angelika Fichter, violin; Mark Braithwaite, Veronika Stross, viola; Pavel Serbin, Felix Stross, cello; Günter Holzhausen, violone; Joachim Held, lute; Olga Watts, harpsichord; Robert Schröter, organ

One of the features of the musical revolution which took place around 1600 was the birth of instrumental virtuosity. This came to the fore in the repertoire of two instruments: the violin and the cornett. Whereas the latter disappeared from the music scene in the late 17th century, the violin developed to one of the main instruments in Western music, a position it has held until today. This explains why so many brilliant compositions for violin have been written in the course of history, from pieces for violin solo without accompaniment to solo concertos with orchestra. Italy was the birthplace of the stile nuovo and here the first virtuosos on the violin were active, both as players and as composers. Whereas the Italian style was soon embraced in the German-speaking world, it took about a century before the violin was taken seriously in France. The present disc includes three specimens of violinistic virtuosity from France and Italy respectively.

One of the first violin virtuosos in France was Jean-Marie Leclair. He was educated as a dancing master and as a violinist; his studies with Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin made him switch to the violin for good. His sonatas for violin and bc belong to the first in which the Italian style and the virtuosity which is one of its features, manifest themselves. Leclair made use of double stopping, a technique very few French violinists of previous generations had mastered. Leclair published two sets with violin concertos as his Op. 7 and Op. 10 respectively. He was not the first French composer who composed and published solo concertos, but his violin concertos were the first which were the equals to the best of what came from Italy. Leclair was a representative of the goûts réunis in that he mixed Italian and French elements. In the Concerto in g minor, op. 10,6 the French style is represented by the middle movement, called aria, with the addition andante gratioso. In fact this is a menuet, a dance which enjoyed increasing popularity since the late 17th century. Leclair presents it in the form of a rondeau: a sequence of refrain and couplets. This was very much the fashion of the time. It is especially in the two fast movements that we meet the virtuosity which was the fruit of Leclair's acquaintance with the Italian style. In the closing movement Chouchane Siranossian plays a cadenza; I don't know whether this is indicated in the score.

Leclair was mentioned in the same breath with Pietro Antonio Locatelli, who was generally considered the greatest violinist of his generation. They were often compared with each other, and the title of the present disc refers to a report by the Dutch organist Johann Wilhelm Lustig, who heard both of them during a performance at the court in Kassel. "Once he [Locatelli] and Leclair were at the court at Kassel at the same time, prompting the court jester to say that both of them ran like rabbits up and down the violin, the one playing like an angel, the other like the devil. The first (Leclair) with his practised left hand and through his neat and lovely tone knew how to steal hearts, while the second (Locatelli) brought forth great difficulties and mainly sought to astound the listener with his scratchy playing. But as far as being steady in the saddle and playing in time went, the French musician could, unless he applied himself with utmost attention, be easily unhorsed by the Italian". It is an open question whether these characteristics concerned their respective techniques or rather the fact that they represented different stylistic schools. There seems to have been no animosity between the two.

Locatelli has become best known for his twelve violin concertos, which he published as his Op. 3 in Amsterdam in 1733, and especially the capriccios included in the collection. These were written for violin solo and could be used as candenzas in the fast movements. Those performers who found them too complicated, could omit them. They were the inspiration for the caprices which Nicolò Paganini published as his Op. 1. In the performance of the Concerto in D, op. 3,1 Chouchane Siranossian includes a capriccio in both fast movements. One would not do Locatelli any justice, if one would exclusively associate him with technical virtuosity. The concertos Op. 3 are musically rewarding, and the Concerto grosso in E flat, op. 7,6 demonstrates that he was able to compose expressive music. The title 'Il pianto d'Arianna' indicates that it is inspired by the famous story from the antiquity, which was so often used as the subject of cantatas and operas in his time. If one listens to this work, which is not that different from a violin concerto, one can only conclude that it is regrettable that Locatelli never composed a vocal work, especially an opera.

Vivaldi belongs to the generation before Locatelli. Whereas the latter goes further in the exploration of the technical possibilities of the violin, Vivaldi certainly was one of the greatest violinists of his time. That comes especially to the fore in the solo concertos for his instrument, in particular those which were not published. His oeuvre also includes a number of concertos for two violins. In total only six of them were published during his lifetime, four of which in his opus 3, L'Estro armonico. But, like in the case of the violin concertos, it was mostly those concertos that are modest in their technical requirements which were published. The more virtuosic pieces were probably written for the girls of the Ospedale rather than for the European market. It has been suggested that Vivaldi may also have played them with his father, a skilled professional violinist and probably his only formal teacher. The Concerto in d minor (RV 514) has to be ranked among the more virtuosic concertos. It is an extroverted work, and the adagio is quite expressive.

The confrontation between three composers who have become known as brilliant performers on the violin and whose violin concertos are counted among the best from the first half of the 18th century, is most interesting. The performances leave little to be desired. Chouchane Siranossian shows an impressive technique and demonstrates a good stylistic awareness in her approach to these concertos. I have only a slight reservation to the performance of Leclair's concerto, which is a bit too Italian for my taste. I miss some French elegance, and the dynamic accents seem a little too strong. Siranossian's interpretation smells a bit too much of Locatelli. The latter's concerto and the capriccios receive brilliant performances. 'Il pianto d'Arianna' comes off nicely under the hands of Rüdiger Lotter and his colleagues of the Hofkapelle München.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Rüdiger Lotter
Chouchane Siranossian
Hofkapelle München

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