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Fire Beneath My Fingers
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for recorder, 2 violins and bc in F 'La Tempesta di Mare' (after RV 98/570) [06:20]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in A (D 91) [17:14]
Sonata for recorder, bassoon and bc in a minor (RV 86) [09:25]
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F [13:12]
Concerto for recorder, violin, bassoon and bc in g minor (RV 106) [08:01]
Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in B flat (RV 503) [11:56]
Musica Pacifica: (Judith Linsenberg (recorder); Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy, Claire Jolivet (violin); Peter Bucknell (viola); William Skeen (cello); Michael McCraw (bassoon); Josh Lee (double-bass); Daniel Swenberg (theorbo, archlute, guitar); Charles Sherman (harpsichord, organ))
rec. January 2006, Ayrshire Ball Room, USA DDD
DORIAN DSL90704 [65:50] 
Experience Classicsonline

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 Vivaldi. 

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 performances.

Johan van Veen


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