Fabio Biondi has
always been a pretty extrovert musician, not afraid of showiness
and spectacle. On this CD he and his excellent band Europa Galante
tackle music all of which contains inbuilt invitations to a
certain extravagance of manner of gesture and sound. All the
pieces are, in varying degrees, pictorial or descriptive and
Biondi and his players readily take up the invitation to paint
The programme begins
with a brief Sinfonia by Vivaldi, two movements (an allegro
and a minuet) which, I believe, were rediscovered only within
the last few years. It doesn’t have either the substance or
the quality that might make one want to claim it as a newly
discovered masterpiece, but it makes for an attention grabbing
opener, with its vivid writing for violin and, particularly,
for the horns (especially in the first movement), and it gives
the CD its title.
despite the CD’s subtitle, doesn’t actually seem to have a title.
Never mind, it’s an attractive and engaging piece, characteristically
well made, characteristically elegant and inventive in its use
of orchestral resources and with some attractive melodies. Its
energy – a quality Biondi and Europa Galante always respond
to – makes it easy to see why such works should have appealed
to, and influenced, the Haydn of the Sturm und Drang symphonies.
With Monza’s ‘La
tempesta di mare’ (a title previously used, of course, by Vivaldi
and others) we move into more obviously pictorial realms. There
are, aptly enough, plenty of dynamic contrasts here, and some
well-nigh frenzied passages for the strings. Minor as the work
is, it deserves at least a place in the roll call of ‘sea’ music.
Monza, was born in Milan, and studied there with Gianandrea
Fiorini at the Cathedral there, going on to become organist
and finally maestro di capella there. The music of the opera
house had clearly not escaped his attention either – the turbulent
winds and waves of the opening allegro have more than a touch
of the theatrical about them and the central aria-like andante
(the work is in three movements) almost cries out for suitable
The most substantial
work here is Boccherini’s sinfonia in D minor, known as ‘La casa
del diavolo’. The theatre is very relevant here too. Its three
movements are full of musical and emotional contrasts – this is
musical chiaroscuro. The first movement begins with an ominous
air, before bursting into the vitality of a vivacious allegro
assai; the gracious andantino con moto which follows perhaps makes
one think of the ballet more than the opera, an association justified
by the third movement, which again begins with a slow introduction
(andante sostenuto), which briefly recalls the first movement,
before a hectic allegro con molto takes over. The score of this
third movement carries an explanation that it is a “chaconne representing
the Underworld, composed in imitation of M. Gluck in his Festin
de Pierre”. Gluck’s Don Juan ou le festin de Pierre
had its first performance in Vienna, at the Burgtheater in 1761.
Boccherini got to know Gluck while working as a cellist at the
Imperial Theatre in Vienna. Could Mozart have known this music?
It dates from 1771 (some seventeen years before the premiere
of Don Giovanni) and, while there are no obvious
musical echoes, it is such a strikingly dramatic piece that it
is not hard to imagine it interesting Mozart (or one of the other
composers of operatic Dons). It gets a superb performance here,
perhaps better even than that by Giardino Armonico and Giovanni
Antonini on Naïve OP 30399 (see review).
Things are somewhat
less exciting and rewarding in the pretty slight piece which
closes the programme, by the little-known Giuseppe Demachi.
The bells of Rome chime only rather faintly and not very resonantly
in this pretty humdrum composition, which never really takes
off, for all the efforts of Biondi and Europa Galante.
But the rather weak
ending to the programme shouldn’t be allowed to detract too
much from a generally entertaining and thought-provoking CD,
which hits the heights in the account of Boccherini’s ‘La case
del diavolo’ and is otherwise interesting and engaging.
The playing throughout
is as vivacious as it is precise and the recorded sound is top-class.
see also Reviews
by Johan van Veen,
Brian Wilson and Jonathan