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Jonathan Woolf
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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia “Improvisata” in C major [3:23]
Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (c.1700-1775)
Overture (sinfonia) in G minor J-C 57 (c.1740s) [9:11]
Carlo MONZA (c.1735-1801)
Sinfonia detta “La tempesta di mare” in D major edited Fabio Biondi [5:44]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Sinfonia No.6 “La casa del diavolo” (1771) revised Antonio de Almeida [19:15]
Giuseppe DEMACHI (1732-after 1791)
Sinfonia “Le campane di Roma” in F major [16:03]
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin/director)
rec. Fondazione Teatro Regio di Parma, Auditorium Paganini, November 2004
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3 63430 2 [53:38]


This is a programme that might have been explicitly chosen to reveal the particular strengths of Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi. There have been times when I’ve tired of their playing to the gallery but here they settle down without any need to exaggerate since so many outsize gestures have already been embedded in these extrovert settings. The disc’s title is derived from the Vivaldi Sinfonia with which it begins and the descriptive (and imitative) is the conceptual core that runs throughout the recital.

The Vivaldi is actually a terse and brisk work lasting less than three and a half minutes. Its strong contrasts of colour and attack also seem briefly to point to some Eastern influence in the Allegro’s cadences. The bass line remains well upholstered and deftly pointed. As a concert overture it makes some powerful demands and opens the disc with deft incision. Sammartini’s Overture is another three-movement work, somewhat more expansive than Vivaldi’s explosive opener. The most distinctive feature of this highly attractive work is his advanced writing for the horns, a feature that dominates the opening Allegro. The engineers have balanced them very expertly indeed so they register with vigour – with a nice fat wet sound – without imperilling orchestral integrity. Similarly the horn harmonies are buoyantly suggestive in the expressive Andante where discreet string bow weight ensures clarity of articulation – still more so in the avuncular and rhythmically energised finale.  So enamoured of this was Sammartini’s pupil, Gluck, that he appropriated the movement for a 1749 Serenade. This is a highly inventive and forward-looking work and the highlight of the collection. 

Biondi has edited Monza’s Sinfonia and this likeable, affectionately songful work has a finely proportioned elegance. Fortunately it also possesses vitality and energy. Demachi’s Sinfonia bears the descriptive name Le campane di Roma – all bar the Sammartini bear names of some sort. There’s some excellent, elfin flute work here in the opening movement and sensitively judged horn-pizzicato exchanges in the stately Andantino. The most extensive and most popular work in the collection is the Boccherini. It receives a reading strong on imagination and eloquence. The pregnant and almost philosophically inclined trajectory of the opening Andante sostenuto serves early notice of the finesse of the playing. Biondi refuses to linger in the Andantino third movement properly taking it, as marked, con moto. 

These are authoritative, intelligent and entirely successful performances. Their moments of fancy are integrated into the fabric of the compositions and never feel outsize or garish. Biondi and his band are on top interpretative form and have been accorded a first class acoustic and recording to boot.

Jonathan Woolf


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