Nowhere in the booklet is the title of this disc explained. We
are, however, given the reasoning behind the programme, which contain pieces strongly contrasting in character
and scoring. The programme notes begin
with the heading "Performers as composers". It is underlined
that the composers represented here were first and foremost known
as performers. From this one may conclude that most of the concertos
they have composed reflect their own capabilities as performers.
This is certainly true in the case
of Giuseppe Tartini, who was an internationally
renowned violinist and much sought-after teacher of the violin.
It is also true in regard to Sammartini,
who worked in London in the last stage of his life. When
he died in 1750 the press wrote that he had been "the finest
performer on the hautboy in Europe". As in those days oboists usually also played the recorder, the
concerto recorded here was very likely written for his own use.
As far as Vivaldi
is concerned things look a bit different. The two instruments
which play the main role in his compositions on this disc are
the recorder and the bassoon. As far as we know he played neither
of them himself, and from this perspective they are out of step
with the programme concept. In this
case we have to look elsewhere to find the performers. Vivaldi
was a virtuosic violinist, and most of his violin concertos
will have been written for his own use. Other concertos were
written for the girls of the Ospedale della
Pietà in Venice, where worked as maestro di violini from 1703 and maestro
de' concerti from 1709. Vivaldi
must have had a thorough knowledge of the technical features
of the instruments for which he was writing as well as of the
capabilities of the girls of the Ospedale. Their fame spread throughout Europe and writers such as Charles Burney
and Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a point of hearing them sing
and play. The French magistrate and scholar Charles de Brosses
(1709-1777) wrote in 1739 that "they sing like angels and
play the violin, the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello,
the bassoon: in short, there is no instrument so large that
it makes them afraid of it". The concertos on this disc
therefore reflect the girls' virtuosity rather than that of
Two of the concertos by Vivaldi (the Concertos in F and in g minor) are not played
exactly as they were written down. As Vivaldi's
concertos are "records of performances rather than finished
'compositions'", as Kate van Orden
writes in the booklet, the performers believe "it is not
inappropriate to alter them for a new occasion and a new set
of performers". This issue will always be a matter of debate.
On the one hand, one shouldn't be so much in awe of the score
that the performer is denied a certain amount of freedom. The
idea of an 'Urtext' was not part of the approach of the baroque era to
a score. On the other hand, this does
not mean performers can do what they like. What is the freedom
of the composer/performer isn't necessarily the freedom of today's
interpreters – after all, there is much distance in time between
then and now. For this reason I am a bit sceptical about the way the first item is treated here, which
"relies on materials drawn from three different extant
versions of the piece".
This is the only questionable aspect
of this recording. The concertos by Vivaldi
are very fine pieces and are given splendid performances. The
Concerto in F is played in a dramatic fashion, with strong dynamic
accents. In the Sonata in A minor the trills in the recorder
part are very nicely played, beginning slowly and then speeding
up. It is a shame that the tone of the recorder is slightly
unstable on long notes, but bothered me hardly at all. The second
movement is played at high speed, but the articulation is nevertheless
very sharp. The largo cantabile of this sonata is particularly
beautiful, with a slow-moving recorder part over a very busy
and virtuosic bassoon line.
Tartini wrote more than a hundred violin concertos.
Nearly all of them have been recorded by an Italian ensemble,
but unfortunately these recordings do them scant justice, and
they are often marred by insecure intonation. Therefore every
recording of these brilliant concertos is very welcome, particularly
when performed to such exalted standards as here by Elizabeth
Blumenstock. The first movement is
very virtuosic and played with technical assurance and panache
by Ms Blumenstock. There are some sharp dynamic contrasts, and the
slowing down in some passages increases the dramatic tension.
The ensemble dares to play the adagio really slowly, which reveals
the strong expressive nature of this movement.
Sammartini's recorder concerto has been recorded
a number of times before, but here it receives a very good interpretation.
The first movement is played with fire. In the slow movement
Judith Linsenberg plays some beautiful ornaments and a virtuosic
cadenza towards the end. In the bassoon concerto Michael McCraw
gets and takes the opportunity to display the qualities of his
instrument as well as his own capabilities as performer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this disc. It
contains first-rate music in very theatrical and technically brilliant
Johan van Veen