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Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Sonate a tre:

Sonata in D (Brainard D2)
Sonata in C (Brainard C3)
Sonata in G (Brainard G3)
Sonata in D (Brainard D10)
Sonata in d minor (Brainard d2)
Sonata in G (Brainard G1)
Sonata in D (Brainard D11)
Sonata in D (Brainard D1)
La Magnifica Comunità (on period instruments):
Enrico Casazza, Isabella Longo, violin; Marcello Scandelli (cello), Giorgio Cerasoli (harpsichord)
rec. August 2002, Abbazia di Carceri d'Este, Padua (Italy) DDD
TACTUS TC692003 [58:03]
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Every year lots of new recordings of compositions by Antonio Vivaldi are released. In comparison, Vivaldi's younger colleague Giuseppe Tartini comes off rather badly. Even Italian ensembles and musicians seem less than keen to explore Tartini's output. The reason may be that Tartini's music isn't as extroverted and dramatic as Vivaldi's, and although his violin parts are anything but easy their virtuosic character isn't as obvious as those in Vivaldi's concertos.

The difference between Vivaldi and Tartini is not just a matter of contrasting characters. It had everything to do with artistic views. Tartini was very critical about the tendency to put virtuosity in the centre. Unlike most composers of his time he never wrote an opera. In a conversation with the French theorist De Brosse he stated: "I have been asked to write for the opera houses of Venice, but I always refused, knowing only too well that a human throat is not a violin fingerboard". Roger-Claude Travers, in the liner notes to the recording of concertos by Locatelli, Vivaldi and Tartini with Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra (Archiv 474 5172), writes: "By the early 1730s Tartini had found a distinctive voice of his own, speaking a language that combines the art of cantabile writing with instrumental virtuosity, while eschewing the departures of composers like Locatelli, who straddled the gulf between performance and tradition, and, above all, Vivaldi, with his blithe blurring of the dividing line between theatricality and the concerto. (...) His aim was to rediscover in violin playing the perfect, natural sound of the singing human voice. It was an ethical position."

Around 1740 Tartini suffered a stroke which partly paralysed his left arm and had some effect on his playing. As a result he devoted most of his time to teaching, in particular at the violin school he started in 1727 in Padua, where he lived from 1726 until his death, and to the writing of theoretical works, often of a rather speculative nature. His writings were often criticised, although they also found some support. He believed that God had entrusted to him the task of revealing the unifying principles of the universe. According to Tartini the source of truth is Nature. Art, on the other hand, was the modification of a given truth. Therefore the closer the artist remains to Nature the closer he will get to the truth. "I am at home as much as I can with Nature, and as little as possible with Art, having no other Art than the imitation of Nature", he wrote to a friend.

These principles explain his criticism of Vivaldi and virtuosity, as well as his own development towards a 'natural' and poetic style of composing. It is also in line with the general preference for a 'natural' style in music, which was one of the main aesthetic principles of the Enlightenment. In accordance with these principles Tartini moved away from polyphony and concentrated on melody, which he considered the perfect tool to express Affects. There is a clear connection here with the ideas of the German theorist Johann Mattheson, one of the main promoters of the aesthetic ideals of the Enlightenment, who in 1723 in his journal 'Critica Musica' stated that melody is the foundation of music.

Tartini's ideals are perfectly reflected in the trio sonatas recorded here, which were probably written between 1745 and 1749. The violin parts are not very virtuosic, and there are no dramatic contrasts. But there is a lot of delicate and beautiful lyricism. One of the highlights in this respect is the andante from the Sonata in G (Brainard G1). There is some imitation between the violins now and then, but homophonic writing is dominant in these sonatas. There is one notable exception: the sonata in C (Brainard C3) opens with a largo which clearly refers to Corelli. For Tartini, as for so many composers, he was still a point of reference.

This doesn't mean these sonatas have nothing more to offer than nice and entertaining music: there is a lot of expression, in particular in the slower movements (andante, largo). The largo andante from the Sonata in d minor (Brainard d2) should especially be mentioned, which contains a deal of chromaticism and is characterised by musical figures which represent the rhetorical device of the 'suspiratio'.

It is a shame this doesn't quite come through in this performance. Otherwise I have really enjoyed this recording, which is - as far as I know - the very first devoted to Tartini's trio sonatas. All four artists play with great zest and imagination, with tasteful ornamentation, and with great sensitivity in the slower movements. I recommend this recording and hope to hear more Tartini from this ensemble.

Johan van Veen



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