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Improvisata: Sinfonie con titoli
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia ‘Improvisata’ [3:23]
Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (1700/1-1775)
Overture (Sinfonia) in G minor [9:11]
Carlo MONZA (c.1735-1801)
Sinfonia detta ‘La tempesta di mare’ [5:45]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Sinfonia No.6, ‘La casa del diavolo’ [19:15]
Giuseppe DEMACHI (1732-post 1791)
Sinfonia, ‘Le campane di Roma’ [16:02]
Europe Galante/Fabio Biondi
rec. 20-24 November 2004, Fondazione Teatro Regio di Parma, Auditorium Paganini, Parma
VIRGIN CLASSICS 363430 [53:36]

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 vivid pictures.

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.

Sammartini’s Overture/Sinfonia, 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 words.

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 Naďve 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.

Glyn Pursglove

see also Reviews by Johan van Veen, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Woolf



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