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CD: Crotchet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Sinfonie a cinque, Opera seconda
Sonata II in C [8:43]
Sonata VI in g minor [9:19]
Sonata IV in c minor [8:32]
Sonata V in B flat [8:15]
Sonata I in G [10:52]
Sonata III in A [8:28]
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini
rec. 26-30 May 2008, Église Évangelique Allemande, Paris, France DDD
Experience Classicsonline

In his programme notes Olivier Fourès complains about the fact that Albinoni is mostly known because of an adagio which was written 200 years after his death and that his oeuvre "goes totally unnoticed alongside that ineffably slow juggernaut". That is highly exaggerated. It is true that the largest part of Albinoni's vocal music has still to be rediscovered, but his instrumental works haven't fared that badly on disc. In particular his opus 5 and opus 7 - Concertos for strings and bc with one and two oboes - are certainly not unknown. They have been recorded by Christopher Hogwood and Simon Standage, among others. More than that, the same 'Sinfonie a cinque' which the Ensemble 415 has recorded on this disc were already available, in a recording by the Italian ensemble Insieme strumentale di Roma under the direction of Giorgio Sasso (Stradivarius).

Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni was born and died in Venice. Just like the Marcello brothers he presented himself as a dilettante, meaning that he wasn't a professional composer and didn't compose for a living. His father was a stationer and manufacturer of playing cards who owned several shops in Venice. Tomaso, being the eldest son, was supposed to take part in his father's business, and so he did. But he was also able to study music; with whom is not known. When in 1709 his father died Tomaso left the business to his two younger brothers in order to devote all his time to music. From then on he called himself musico di violino. In 1721 one of his father's creditors took over the shop so he must have earned a living from his musical activities.

In 1715 and 1722 two collections of 12 Concertos each were published, both for strings and bc, with parts for one and two oboes. These were the opp. 5 and 7 I have already referred to. They brought Albinoni considerable fame which resulted in his being invited to conduct one of his operas in Munich. The occasion was the marriage of Prince Karl Albrecht - to whose father, elector Maximilian II Emanuel, Albinoni had dedicated his opus 9 - and Maria Amalia, daughter of the late Emperor Joseph I. A member of the audience sent a very enthusiastic report of the performance to the German theorist Johann Mattheson.

Obviously he wasn't the only one who was impressed by Albinoni. The composer was mentioned in the same breath as Corelli and Vivaldi by contemporaries. Johann Sebastian Bach used some of Albinoni's compositions as teaching material and also based four fugues on subjects from Albinoni's opus 2. This is the collection recorded here. That is to say: only the six sonatas from this opus are performed. The collection contains six 'Sonatas' - in the title referred to as 'Sinfonie' - and six 'Concertos'. There is a clear difference between the two categories. The sonatas follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa with its four movements, whereas the concertos are in three movements: fast - slow - fast. Because of this the opus 2 is a kind of link between the style of the late 17th and the new style of the early 18th century of which Vivaldi is the most prominent representative. The connection to the past manifests itself in the five-part structure: Albinoni requires two violins, two violas - one alto and one tenor -, cello and bc. This was a quite common scoring in the 17th century but had fallen into disuse since the turn of the century. The opp. 5 and 7 are also written in five parts, but there the fifth part is for an oboe or a third violin. Both collections require only one viola.

It is quite likely the 'modern' character of the concertos resulted in their being the most popular part of this collection. The six sonatas are well worth forming part of the repertoire of today's baroque ensembles, though. The slow movements are without exception very expressive because of their harmonies and Albinoni's great melodic invention. His thematic material is always ear-catching and original. That is also shown by the fast movements which are mostly fugal. The subjects lead to a lively musical discourse which is characterised by a rhythmic vigour. In addition, the five-part texture results in a great depth of sound.

These qualities are underlined in the performances by the Ensemble 415 which are nothing less than brilliant. The players produce a warm and full sound and pay attention to every detail in the score. What makes this recording even more captivating is the rhetorical and eloquent delivery of the musical discourse, with clear but never exaggerated dynamic accents. The expression of the slow movements is explored to the full, whereas the fast movements are given really swinging performances.

This disc is extremely attractive on account of the originality and expression of Albinoni's music and because of Ensemble 415's superior performances. This disc goes straight to my list of discs of the year.

Johan van Veen


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