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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764)
L’arte del violino Op.3 -
Concertos Nos.1-12: No 1 in D major [22.37]; No.2 in C minor [22.36]; No.3 in F major [21.27]; No.4 in E major [19.04]; No.5 in C major [16.13]; No.6 in G minor [15.05]; No.7 in B flat major [18.47]; No.8 in E minor [18.10]; No.9 in G major [18.36]; No.10 in F major [17.58]; No.11 in D major [17.03]; No.12 in D major [22.15]
Mela Tenenbaum (violin)
Pro Musica Prague
Philharmonia Virtuosi (Concertos 1 and 3)
Pro Musica Kiev (Concertos 2, 4, 5 and 6)
Directed by Richard Kapp
Recorded Kiev 1994/95 (Concertos 1-6), Prague, 1998 (concertos 7-12)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92608 [4 CDs: 65.27 + 50.58 + 56.30 + 57.48]


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These famously pyrotechnic concertos, some of proto-Paganinian complexity, show a more public virtuosity than the interior spirituality of, say, Biber's Mystery Sonatas. Locatelli's own Sonatas - he wrote a number - certainly lack the Bohemian composer's sense of profound engagement but then Locatelli was writing from a different compositional axis; a broadly Corellian-Vivaldian one that took an admixture of Handel and larded it with moments of extreme, if (in our terms) rather static melodrama. And his Concertos are certainly chin-juttingly tough to play and have provided fiddle players with quite sufficient difficulties over the years. The fearsome few tend to dig out the solo sonatas - Ricci, Staryk, Kremer amongst them - whilst such as the pioneering Lautenbacher have given us complete sets of the concertos.

Adopting elements of the church sonata he added finger busting double stops and exceptionally difficult writing in the soprano register, playing that tests agility, digital accuracy and intonation to the maximum. All the concertos contain caprice-cadenzas, moments when the soloist lets loose with a battery of florid cadential dramas – not for nothing was Locatelli known colloquially as The Earthquake. Slow movements are lyrically etched, such as the first in D major. Opening movements, as often as not Andantes, can move, as in the case of the C minor [No.2] with noblest of treads whereas Vivace finales can tend toward the vocalised and possess real lyric generosity, though there are dangers aplenty.

Such things may seem schematic but Locatelli cannily varies texture and tone; the stratospheric finger board work in the concertante parts of the E major [No.4] are contrasted with the greater concentration on the lower strings in the powerhouse cadenza. And lest one think him a flâneur, melodically speaking, he spins a haunting Largo in the same Concerto. He also manages to spice up a compositional trick whereby the spaced orchestral chordal introductions to the slow movement become, over time and as the concertos develop, quicker. The move generally is toward a greater concision of utterance and a greater compression of musical ideas, even if in the case of the Largo of No.11 it has become generic through overuse, and even though the last of the twelve, the G major Facilis aditus, difficilis exitus (an appropriate Latin tag), has an inordinately long but clever finale – the longest single movement of any of the concertos.

The principal competition to this newly released set of the cycle made by Mela Tenenbaum between 1994-98 is the set of recordings made in 1990 by Rudolfo Bonucci and the Orchestra da Camera di Santa Cecilia on Arts 4772-2, a four CD set in a handy slipcase. Differences are plentiful. In the main Bonucci is more leisurely in terms of tempi and the harpsichord is much more audible in the recorded balance. Tenenbaum was recorded with three different orchestras though all were directed by Richard Kapp and one senses their greater incision throughout. That said I can’t hear a harpsichord in the First Concerto in the Brilliant performance and the cello continuo line is rather submerged. Against that I welcomed the Brilliant team’s greater attention to expressive diminuendi and lighter tone. The recording venues obviously changed for the new team and that is reflected in the rather less immediate sound generally in comparison with the sturdy Arts sound. Interpretatively the Bonucci team tends to more old-fashioned notions of expression whilst the Brilliant tend to accent with great rhythmic impetus. That this is not a question of tempo can be evidenced by the performances of baroque violin music of Andrew Manze who’s never afraid to indulge a slow tempo in the interests if emotive depth. I admired rather more the sense of paragraphal sculpting Tenenbaum finds in the Largo of the Seventh Concerto and also her rather greater tensile strength. Robust though they are the Arts team has to cede to the Brilliant in the concluding Allegro of the Ninth in terms of imaginative colour.

In the virtuosic demands of the last three of the set we find Tenenbaum fearlessly tossing off passagework – though Bonucci is no slouch and his harmonics are splendid. The Labyrinth Concerto, the Twelfth, sounds very much more innovatory and revolutionary in this new recording than it does with Bonucci, who tends to present a more patrician front and by implication to relate it much more to the earlier concertos in the set, giving it a greater expressive consonance. With Tenenbaum and Kapp you are also aware of the radicalism that runs throughout and the colour is altogether different; in fact they could be playing different editions their performances are so different in almost every respect.

My choice would be for the Brilliant team over the Arts though I should say that though Bonucci’s intonation is occasionally compromised somewhat and there are instances of strained passagework he remains elegant and generally unruffled by the exorbitant demands placed on him. Tenenbaum and Kapp take Locatelli more by the scruff of the neck and the vitality and innovation of the music is perhaps better revealed in their performances, imperfect though they may sometimes be.

Jonathan Woolf


 

 



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