This CD features several examples of the northern Italian violin concerto as composed during the years 1690-1740. This was truly the violin’s golden age in Italy. With luthiers like Antonio Stradivari, the Guarneri family and Nicolo Amati manufacturing instruments whose perfection has never been equalled, a standard of excellence was established to which all violin makers could aspire. In a nation of opera singers where the human voice epitomized the highest levels of artistic aspiration, it is hardly surprising that the musical instrument most analogous to the human voice – the violin – was preeminent. This had an almost inevitable corollary: woodwind instruments were comparatively rare in Italy and the players themselves were most often from north of the Alps. This resulted in fewer Italian makers of the instruments flourishing during the period and a scarcity of Baroque era woodwinds still surviving today. Difficulties in pitch that might result are overcome by specially made oboes and a bassoon that are used for this project.
The concertos by Tartini, Locatelli, Sammartini and Vivaldi on this CD exist either in printed form or are available only in manuscript. There are some similarities amongst the six works recorded here, reflecting their relatively homogeneous cultural background. This gives them a slight generic quality, a trait immortalized in the familiar complaint that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto four hundred times. But this is merely a surface observation. Differences in Baroque Italian violin concertos are subtle but real. Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli both emulated Vivaldi’s style but developed their own musical identities. The Concerto a piu stromenti by Giovanni Sammartini reflects his status as an excellent oboist and is an example of an early sinfonia concertante. It is remarkably classical in style given its early 1750s composition date. Sammartini was the most significant composer of the first school of symphonists. He composed many symphonies and a great deal of sacred music. The two Vivaldi concertos offered here reflect his status as the most important eighteenth century Italian contributor to the horn literature.
La Serenissima under director Adrian Chandler highlight the differences in these works. As beneficiaries of the maturity of historically informed performance practice they brandish their expertise on original instruments bringing this music to life. They obviously relish the organic sonorities produced by them, using their rich sonic variety to clearly delineate the inner lines of these contrapuntal composition, furnishing this music with a bubbling infectiousness that sweeps away all thoughts of similarity in these concertos. This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc, third part of a series examining the violin concerto in northern Italy. It is living music without a hint of the museum quality that pervaded the early years of Baroque recordings. What a long way we’ve come since those relatively drab days.
The sound of this CD is rich and full. Each of the instruments is given room to breathe, punctuating their personality and providing the music with an uplifting freshness that is part of this recording’s charm. The sound field is wide and deep with a nice illusion of space.
– – Mike Birman