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Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
The Devil’s Trill and other violin sonatas
CD 1*
Sonata in G Minor, ‘Didone abbandonata’, Op. 1 No. 10 B g 10 [12:50]
Sonata in C Minor, Op. 1 No. 8 B c2 [12:18]
Sonata in F Major, Op. 1 No. 2 B F9 [8:08]
Pastorale in A Major, Op. 1 No. 13 a A16 [9:10]
Sonata in F Major, Op. 1 No. 12 B F4 [15:38]
Sonata in G Minor,‘Il trillo del Diavolo’ B g5 [15:13]
CD 2 **
Violin Sonata in D Major, B D19 [20:25]
Violin Sonata in B Flat Major, B Bflat1 [9:17]
Violin Sonata in A Major ‘Sopra lo stile che suona il Prette [sic] dalla Chitarra Portoghese’, B A 4 [17:06]
Violin Sonata in B Flat Major, Op 5 No 6 B Flat 12 [20:33]
The Locatelli Trio: (Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin); Richard Tunnicliffe (cello); Paul Nicholson (harpsichord))
rec. 18-20 June, 1990, England? DDD *
rec. 9-10 April, 28 May 1991, England? DDD **
Reissues of Hyperion CDA66430, CDA66485
HYPERION DYAD CDD22061 [73:19 + 67:23]


Tartini is one of those late Baroque composers who conventionally attract ‘second tier’ status and reputation. Yet, his music is consistently better than such a ranking suggests: more profound, more original, genuinely creative, more melodic and more skilfully orchestrated and arranged. This generous, two-CD re-issue from Hyperion/Dyad, ought to help listeners new to Tartini to arrive at a fairer assessment.

Not much is known about Tartini’s early life and musical influences. But we do know that he was brought up and became musically active in that part of north-eastern Italy which is called ‘The Sacristy of Italy’… puritan, conservative, unadventurous. Here, too, he fell foul of the Church. The city of Padua - livelier than some in the region – was Tartini’s home for years, although we know he visited Assisi and Prague.

It seems likely that innate wit, ability and drive coupled with real curiosity brought out in Tartini the qualities necessary to build a, subsequently renowned, violin school which attracted pupils from across Europe. It was the same determination that compelled Tartini to write extensively on acoustics and musical theory. It was also surely Tartini’s temperament - a sensitivity to criticism - that caused him to react in baffled, mildly combative and defensive ways when attacked by more progressive figures later in his life. Born just before the death of Purcell, Tartini died in Padua in the year Beethoven was born; he composed more than 130 violin concertos, the same number of violin sonatas, and a quarter that number of trio sonatas.

On the first of these two discs the music almost all comes from Sonate a violino e violincello o cimballo, Op. 1, originally published in 1732 in Amsterdam; that was a preferred location for Italian composers because Italian publishing houses were in decline. The set was reprinted in 1746 in London as XII Solos for a Violin with Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord or Violoncello. It must also be borne in mind that Tartini’s Op. numbers and publishing history and sequences are complex and confusing at best. In any case, this first group of sonatas comes from the earlier period in the composer’s life when his style was more intricate and difficult… double and triple stopping, ornate passagework and florid ornamentation, not to mention scordatura in the A Major Pastorale (tr.10), for example.

Of this Op. 1 set the first six (following Corelli) are in da chiesa style yet consist of three movements, slow-fast-fast, with the second a fugue. The rest are in the da camera style with (also three; also slow-fast-fast) binary dance movements. Another feature of Tartini’s striking melodic and harmonic language is their association with dramatic themes, and with dramatic titles… Didone abbandonata; Il trillo del Diavolo. This suggests the wish later expressed by Classical composers to allude to an almost operatic substance in their instrumental work. It’s a step in the direction of tone-painting, but in ways less overt than those of Vivaldi.

The Devil’s Trill is certainly the best known such programmatic violin sonata from the whole century … Tartini dreamt he had made a pact with the devil, handed him his violin and listened to his resulting playing: it’s the trill at the end of the allegro assai (tr.18) of the G Minor sonata. ‘Matter of Fact’ would be the wrong term for the style with which the Locatellis play this passage. As would ‘histrionic’. It’s at just the right place on the spectrum of styles between these two inappropriate extremes to excite and amaze without over-impressing the listener.

There are times in other of the works (the final allegro of the F Major, Op. 1 Number 12, for example) when one might wish that a slightly more animated speed had been adopted. But at the same time, the players know the value of restraint and present every turn of Tartini’s sinuous writing unpretentiously. They also offer the music for what it is: sardonic in places and with a slight (feigned?) passivity; the tuning of the B Flat Major allegro (tr.14) is a good example.

For the music on CD 2 the plainer and less extravagant style inspired by Corelli’s Op. 5 solo chamber sonatas (of 1700) was the model. Of these four sonatas three remained in manuscript during Tartini’s lifetime. Only his Op. 5 (tr.s13,14,15) was published – in the late 1740s in Paris. This Op. 5, Number 6 in B Flat, is probably the earliest piece; it’s close in style to the 1732 Op. 1 on CD 1.

Here too there is painting in sound … the Sonata in A Major ‘Sopra lo stile che suona il Prette dalla Chitarra Portoghese’ (‘prete’ is misspelled) looks in the direction of Iberian (folk) music. The D Major sonata has fanfares; both it and the B Flat employ a variety of dance movements.

The task facing Wallfisch, Tunnicliffe and Nicholson, then, was to infuse their music-making with balance. To be effective the playing should mix plain exposition of this original, sweet, simple yet spectacular music on the one hand. And be forward-looking, colourful, expressive on the other. And all that without making the music sound overly demonstrative. Such a blend they achieve in three ways:

By meticulous, painstaking attention to detail, idiomatic ornamentation, an obvious belief in the nuances and force of the string writing in particular; it’s obvious that the trio is fully but quietly persuaded by the music.

By careful use of contrasting, rather than conflicting, tempi.

And by allowing the line of the melodic development to breathe and expand unhurriedly – the first allegro (tr.14) of Op. 1 Number 12 is an excellent example. Not quite ‘symphonic’ in scope. But certainly panoramic.

Since the virtuosity of the players was taken for granted in the way Tartini wrote his music, it must be made to express what it will - almost without the ‘intervention’ of brashness or bravado. Such qualities couldn’t be further from the Locatellis’ minds. The grace, elegance and mellow beauty of Tartini’s invention wins out every time. Movement after movement from these sonatas is made to sound dulcet, gentle, delicately-articulated and almost crystalline. It’s almost, at times, as though a precious piece of glassware is being passed from player to player – for example in the A Major’s minuet (tr.12) and the slow movements of the same sonata; and the B Flat’s first movement (tr.13); the marking of the latter is, after all, ‘affettuoso’!

The liner-notes are clear and to the point, if not always perfectly proofed; the recording crisp and produced with the right amount of presence to support the musical world of these varied and delightful sonatas. 

Mark Sealey




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