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Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709)
The Original Brandenburg Concertos
Concerti Musicali a Quattro, Op. 6
Concerto No. 1 in G major [6:02]
Concerto No. 2 in E minor [4:31]
Concerto No. 3 in B minor [4:16]
Concerto No. 4 in D major [4:30]
Concerto No. 5 in G minor [3:21]
Concerto No. 6 in C minor [5:05]
Concerto No. 7 in C major [3:34]
Concerto No. 8 in F major [5:02]
Concerto No. 9 in A minor [4:12]
Concerto No. 10 in D minor [5:47]
Concerto No. 11 in B-flat major [4;13]
Concerto No. 12 in A major [4:46]
Sonata à 4 in A minor G46 [7:11]
Charivari Agréable (Bojan Cicić (violin); Oliver Sandig (violin); Hazel Brooks (violin, viola); Camilla Scarlett (violin); Linda Hannah-Anderson (violin); Richard Wade (violin); Veronique Matarasso (violin); Rachel Stott (viola); Heather Birt (viola); Gareth Deats (cello); Ibi Aziz (viola da gamba); Elizabeth Harré (violone); Mark Baigent (oboe, recorder); Jane Downer (oboe, recorder); Nicholas Benda (oboe); Michael Brain (bassoon); Jørgen Skogmo (theorbo, baroque guitar); David Bannister (chamber organ); Kah-Ming Ng (chamber organ, harpsichord))
Kah-Ming Ng (director)
rec. 14-16 April, 2008, St. Andrew's Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, UK. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Giuseppe Torelli was renowned in his lifetime as a performer, a highly accomplished string player, in the northern Italian towns of Verona (his birthplace) and Bologna. Indeed, the composer partly forged a Bolognese style of playing, which spread to other cities in Europe when the orchestra there was disbanded in 1696.

A year later Torelli was in Berlin, where he attempted to find favour - or even a court position - with the same family (although a different branch) to which Bach later dedicated his Brandenburg Concertos. Although unsuccessful, that was probably a blessing in disguise for Torelli: the stifling routine in Prussia would surely have depressed the volatile Torelli. Indeed, a few years later Handel had to find a way out of a similar circumstance there.

The prominence of the hoped-for patron, however, meant that the composer of the dozen Concerti Musicali a Quattro, Op. 6 was celebrated (at least for the first two decades of the eighteenth century) beyond an otherwise relatively obscure slot that the rest of his output might otherwise have reserved for him despite the fact that Torelli is often celebrated for his role in developing the concerto grosso.

The works themselves are helped by being well-suited to performance in a variety of milieus from domestic chamber concerts to more public 'concert' performances; concerts were by those years established and increasing in popularity.

Although not scored for so varied a palette of instruments as Bach's concertos, these are lively and inspiring pieces. There are innovations, too: concertos 6, 10 and 12 are the first in history to specify a part for a solo violin. Charivari Agréable has followed such dispositions as stipulated by Torelli to the letter; although they have also allowed ornamentation which they believe would have been consistent with the forces available to the composer in his position at Ansbach at the time of their composition.

These concertos are unlikely to be staples of many people's collections: this is their only recording in the catalogue. But they are of such freshness, lightness and understated beauty that the accomplishment of Ng (whose first degree is in civil engineering!) and his forces is a significant one. Their playing comes not only from an affectionate attachment to the idiom, but also from a deep understanding of the particular ways in which it has been utilised to convey surprise, delight, uplift and pathos.

The way the second two movements of the fourth concerto [tr.s13,14], for example, take no hostages to convention, and the woodwind weave uncompromising and original colours at innovative tempi in the middle movements of the fifth [tr.s16,17] exemplify this exciting and very pleasing approach by Charivari Agréable. Each movement presents something different from the last.

The lightness of touch and generosity of interpretative depth employed by Charivari Agréable, though, ensure that we enjoy the concertos for their own sake as well as noting any kind of historical significance. The period instruments on which they play have sonorous and broad sounds with as much depth as body.

The expressiveness of the string playing in the eighth [tr.s24-27], for instance - particularly when set against the mellow woodwind, again - is typical of such tight focus. No movement in these dozen works lasts more than three minutes. So structure, development and almost perfect phrasing have been emphasised. The result is something very… agreeable.

In short, the ensemble's blend of technical prowess and perception into the way the themes and textures work to produce something novel yet touching makes this a CD to be taken very seriously.

The presentation is up to Signum's usual standard: there is a lengthy and informative essay on the background to the composition of the Concerti Musicali; the recorded sound is close and clean. All in all these concerti have more than curiosity value. Enjoy them in their own right.

Mark Sealey


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