music concerts by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
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Seen & Heard
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Antonio LOLLI (c.1725-1802)
Concerto No.1 in E flat major, Op.2 No.1 (c.1740) [17:21]
Concerto No.2 in C major, Op.2 No.2 (c.1740) [18:08]
Concerto No.3 in A major, Op.4 No.1 (c.1766) [17:03]
Concerto No.4 in B flat major, Op.4 No.2 (c.1766) [19:19]
Concerto No.5 in E major, Op.5 No.1 (c.1768) [17:17]
Concerto No.6 in D major, Op.5 No.2 (c.1768) [18:38]
Concerto No.7 in G major (c.1775) [20:15]
Concerto No.8 in D major (1776) [17:02]
Concerto No.9 in C major (c.1776) [17:48]
Concerto in E flat major (attrib. Lolli) [13:26]
(violin, conductor), Reale Concerto
rec. April and July, 2006, A. Boito Conservatory, Parma and
Church of San Silvestro, Parma
CDS527/1-3 [3 CDs: 53:32 + 55:16 + 68:32]
has received relatively little attention in modern times.
I haven’t, for example, been able to trace a single reference
to him in the pages of MusicWeb International. Despite this
he holds a rather prominent place in that line of Italian
violin virtuosi which runs from a figure such as Biagio Marini
through Corelli and Tartini to Paganini and Viotti. The musicologist
Albert Mell has, not unreasonably, written of him that he “was
from many points of view the most important violin virtuoso
before Paganini” (Musical Quarterly, Vol. 44, 1958)
and Simon McVeigh (in The Cambridge Companion to
the Violin) has described him as “the archetypal travelling
was born in Bergamo, at a date not precisely known. Nor do
we know anything of his early musical training or associations.
Real knowledge of him begins only with documents relating
to his appointment as solo violinist in the Stuttgart Kapelle in
1758. From surviving correspondence it is clear that his
friends and supporters included Padre Giovanni Battista Martini
- could Lolli have studied with him in Bologna? - and Niccolò Jommelli.
Lolli was based in Stuttgart until 1774, though he also toured
and performed in many other parts of Europe during these
years. He had a spectacular success in 1764, playing as a
soloist at the Concerts Spirituels in Paris. The year before
that he had met with considerable success in Vienna – Dittersdorf,
who had been in Italy at the time, writes in his autobiography
that on his return his older brother “could not say enough
about the sensation caused everywhere by his playing”. From
1774 to 1777, and again from 1780-1784, Lolli worked in St.
Petersburg as ‘concertmaster’, performing, composing and
teaching. Not all his energies went into music, however.
For a while at least he was numbered amongst the lovers of
Catherine the Great – until warned off by the secret police,
supposedly acting under instructions to kill him, stuff him
and mount him in a display case!
many admired his playing, and while his showmanship guaranteed
plenty of popular success, there seem always to have been
some who found his performances too ostentatiously showy
and gimmicky. Salieri wrote of the “ravishing, magical energy
of Lolli’s playing” at his best, but felt that, especially
later in his career, he was prone to the excessive use of portamento.
Other contemporaries talked of his playing in terms of eccentricity
and oddity. In the booklet notes to the present CD Danilo
Prefumo quotes Charles Burney’s observation that “so eccentric
was his style of composition and execution, that he was regarded
as a madman by most of his hearers. Yet I am convinced that
in his lucid intervals he was, in a serious style, a very
great, expressive, and admirable performer. In his freaks
nothing can be imagined so wild, grotesque, and even ridiculous
as his compositions and performances”. It should be remembered,
however, that Burney was writing after hearing a performance
in 1785, when Lolli seems to have been past his best and
increasingly given to attracting attention by his ability
to use his instrument to imitate a variety of improbable
sounds, such as bagpipes, the crowing of a cock and the barking
of a dog.
don’t know what music Burney heard him play in 1785. It is
hard to believe that it can have been the concertos heard
on these discs, to which no one, surely, would apply the
adjective eccentric. These, surely, are examples of what
Burney thought of as his “serious style”. There are no farmyard
impressions to be heard here. All of the concertos are in
three movements, and in the quicker movements there is much
that is pretty orthodox galant style. There are substantial
technical demands, since the soloist is required to spend
a good deal of time at the higher end of the fingerboard
and there are many double-stopped passages. But this never
seems to be mere bravura – it comes closest to being so in
the first two concertos. But even here there is a certain
(admittedly not exceptionally individual) poetry, and in
almost all of the slow central movements there is some attractively
lyrical writing. But, in truth, this is, for the most part,
pleasant, rather than dazzling music, very much of its time.
If it was with these concertos that Lolli wowed his audiences
he must, one presumes, have played with greater freedom,
with more sheer self-display, than the excellent Luca Fanfoni
allows himself. Fanfoni plays throughout with great assurance
and control, with lucid phrasing and purity of tone. I wonder,
indeed, if he doesn’t play too ‘correctly’, given what we
know (or think we know) about Lolli’s performance strategies?
was a man addicted to gambling, who thereby lost much of
the fortune he had acquired as a virtuoso. Perhaps there
was more ‘gambling’ in his playing than our contemporary
expectations encourage? Or, on the other hand, should we
assume that – as both Salieri and Burney seem to imply – that
there was a serious, ‘straight’ side to Lolli and, on the
other hand, a vulgarising side, ready to put on a freak show
for those best satisfied by such? In that case, one has to
say that Lolli the serious composer was, on the evidence
of these concertos, less distinguished than Lolli the virtuoso.
slight puzzle remains. In addition to the nine published
concertos by Lolli, Fantoni and his ensemble play an additional
concerto apparently discovered in Dubrovnik by the soloist.
On what grounds he attributes it to Lolli we are not told.
Even Prefumo, in his notes, comments that “the authenticity
of this concerto, whose writing and style are significantly
different from those of the previous nine concertos, must
at present be considered doubtful”.
in all, this is a useful and pleasant set, a valuable documentation
of an unduly neglected figure. Yet, in all honesty, it may
not be one that the listener rushes to take from the shelves
all that often. Fanfoni’s evident talents might, dare one
say it, have been employed on more substantial materials.
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