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Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 - 1770): "Vertigo - The last violin sonatas"

Duo Tartini

rec: Sept 8 - 11, 2019, Franc-Warêt (B), Église Saint-Rémi
muso - mu-040 (© 2020) (79'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sonata in A (Brainard A4); Sonata in a minor (Brainard a8); Sonata in D (Brainard D9); Sonata in D (Brainard D19); Sonata in d minor (Brainard d5)

David Plantier, violin; Annabelle Luis, cello

Giuseppe Tartini, one of the greatest violinists and composers of his time, died in 1770. That was also the year that Ludwig van Beethoven was born. In 2020, the latter fact has received much more attention than the former. There were no concerts or other events that were devoted to him and his oeuvre. Obviously, that was partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic which also seriously damaged the Beethoven commemoration, but even without those circumstances, he would have suffered from the overwhelming dominance of Beethoven. It is a bit of a mystery why his many violin concertos and sonatas are not more often played. Fortunately, at least some recordings have been released at the occasion of the commemoration of his death. The disc by the Duo Tartini, comprising of David Plantier (violin) and Annabelle Luis (cello), is one of them.

In 2016 I reviewed a recording of sonatas for solo violin and some with cello by the same artists ("Cantabile e suonabile"). The were taken from a manuscript collection of piccole sonate. It is not known when they were written, but at least some of them are from early stages of Tartini's career. The present disc focuses on sonatas which Tartini composed in the last stage of his life. They are included in a collection of music by Tartini which was part of the treasures of war that were brought to Paris from Padua, where Tartini had lived and worked for most of his life. That happened in 1796, when Padua was occupied by Napoleon's army. The sonatas performed here are from one of the manuscripts in this collection, known as Manuscrit 9796, preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

The Sonata in D (D19) is an early work. It still follows Corelli's model, in that it comprises four movements in the order slow-fast-slow-fast. It is notable that the first movement has no title, but has the character of a recitative. This sonata is technically demanding, especially the first allegro, which includes four-note chords, double stopping and high positions. In later years Tartini moved towards a more cantabile style of writing, and was highly influenced by literature. However, that does not indicate that his later sonatas are devoid of virtuosity. The Sonata in D (D9), for instance, is almost entirely dominated by double stopping. David Plantier, in his liner-notes, explains: "The great difference lies in the integration of the virtuosity in the musical discourse, avoiding superficiality, ever at the service of expression. And it is deepened by the juxtapostion of touchingly expressive slow movements". The same sonata includes an example: the fourth movement is a wonderful cantabile (for inexplicable reasons Plantier calls it an adagio).

The structure of the four late sonatas already indicates a stylistic change. Corelli is not the model anymore. The Sonata in a minor (a8) opens with a long grave, and after an allegro we get a siciliana grave. The last of the five movements is an allegro with six variations. The latter is a typical feature of much music written from the mid-18th century onwards. The Sonata in D (D9) mentioned before ends with a minuet with variations, and the Sonata in d minor (d5) includes even two movements with variations: the penultimate is a minuet with two variations, the last a gavotta allegro with five. The latter sonata is also in five movements, and opens again with a slow movement, larghetto.

A special case is the Sonata in A (A4), which is written in imitation of the Portuguese guitar. Tartini did not often compose imitative music. The best-known example is the (in)famous "Devil's Trill" sonata. It is not known for what reason Tartini composed this sonata, but the features of the guitar are realistically depicted in this work,

In the second movement Plantier includes a cadenza. He does the same in the opening movements of a8 and d5. Another token of the creativity of these performances is that he added variations in the bass of the closing movement of the Sonata D19. And that brings us to the role of the cello. These sonatas have the common scoring of violin and basso continuo. However, it is known that in his later years Tartini often performed with his close friend, the cellist Antonio Vandini. From that angle it seems right to perform the bass part on the cello, without the participation of a keyboard or a plucked instrument. A further indication of this way of performing is that Manuscrit 9796 includes a number of sonate à violino e violoncello. However, as Plantier states, "[it] is highly unlikely that Vandini would have been pleased with Tartini's extremely simple basses, and more likely that the latter wrote down on paper what was the essence of his music in the violin part, leaving for his faithful acolyte the task of realizing the bass on his own. We have therefore opted for a creative realisation of the bass line, with, as seemed justified, added chords, pizzicati and imitations." The variations in the bass of D19 is also part of this creative process.

The result is a very fine disc, which may well give us a good idea of Tartini's aesthetic ideals at the closing stage of his life, when he probably was where he wanted to be in stylistic matters. Therefore this disc is of great importance for historical reasons, but also a wonderful display of Tartini's art. The Duo Tartini is delivering compelling performances, and it is to be hoped that these performers will continue exploring the oeuvre of Tartini, who is still not appreciated as much as he should.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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David Plantier

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