Pietro Antonio Locatelli is first and foremost known as the composer
of 12 virtuosic violin concertos - published as his opus 3 in
1733. In this capacity he is considered the "founding-father
of modern instrumental virtuosity" as the Dutch musicologist
Albert Dunning writes in New Grove. These concertos overshadow
his other collections, although the commemoration of his birth
in 1995 resulted in the recording of the lion’s share of his oeuvre.
At this same occasion his 12 concerti grossi op. 1 were recorded
by the Raglan Baroque Players (Hyperion). In addition there are
recordings of selections from this opus, but the present disc
is the first of two which together will present the complete op.
Locatelli was a child prodigy and became a member of the instrumental
ensemble of the basilica in his birthplace, Bergamo, at the
age of 14. In 1711 he went to Rome, where he came under the
influence of Corelli, although there is no evidence that he
was his pupil. It can't be considered a coincidence that his
first opus to be published was a series of 12 concerti grossi
- just like Corelli's op. 6. They are clearly modelled after
Corelli's concerti grossi, but he nevertheless develops his
own musical style which develops further in the next collections
of music, in particular in the famous violin concertos.
Locatelli spent most of his lifetime in Amsterdam, probably mainly
because the city was the centre of music publishing in Europe.
His op. 1 was published by Le Cène, who also printed other collections
of orchestral music. Locatelli took care of printing and selling
his own chamber music. As at his death he turned out to be quite
prosperous: he may well have been a pretty good entrepreneur.
He also sold musical instruments and strings, and collected
books and art. Although he mostly stayed away from social life
in the city he regularly gave concerts at his home, probably
for a circle of wealthy citizens.
Locatelli had the reputation of being a violin virtuoso but it brought
him a mixed range of reactions. There is a report about a concert
by Locatelli and his French colleague Jean-Marie Leclair. According
to the report Leclair played like an angel and Locatelli like
the devil. Although there is considerable doubt about whether
this concert ever took place, the comment sheds some light on
the controversial nature of Locatelli as a performer. The English
journalist Charles Burney also showed little enthusiasm for
his music which "excites more surprise than pleasure".
And his contemporary Charles Avison, a staunch admirer of Locatelli's
colleague Francesco Geminiani, characterised Locatelli's music
as "defective in various harmony and true invention".
And there are some pretty harsh judgements in modern times as
well. In his article on 'Locatelli
and the Early Italians' David Wright quotes the entry on
Locatelli from the 1954 edition of the English music encyclopedia
Grove: "He oversteps all reasonable limits and aims at
effects which, being adverse to the very nature of the violin,
are neither beautiful nor musical, but ludicrous and absurd".
It is probably true that most of these judgements are based on the
violin concertos op. 3 only. Today we know almost his complete
oeuvre, and that has generally led to a much more positive assessment
of this composer. In his concerti grossi op. 1, for instance,
Locatelli uses a more moderate musical language. They differ
little from Corelli's concerti grossi. Like the Corelli they
have at least four movements, mostly slow-fast-slow-fast. The
first and second movements are predominantly polyphonic, and
the second is usually a fugue. The third movement is mostly
homophonic. Eight of the concertos are written in the form of
the sonata da chiesa whereas the other four show the pattern
of the sonata da camera - again just like Corelli's op. 6.
But Locatelli doesn't imitate Corelli. One difference is the scoring
of the concertino: to Corelli's two violins and cello Locatelli
adds a viola which considerably changes the sound of the concertino
passages. Locatelli's concerti grossi are also more individualistic,
for instance in that there are some solo passages for the cello,
as in the largo of the Concerto No 4. Not without reason Marco
Scandelli is especially mentioned as 'violoncello solista' at
the front of the booklet. These concertos are also more theatrical,
as one will notice right away in the very first concerto where
the second movement (largo) builds a quite dramatic transition
from the opening allegro to the third movement, again an allegro.
The next movement, another largo, is also theatrical in nature,
and the concerto closes with a beautiful polyphonic allegro.
While these concerti grossi generally are void of the extravagance
of the violin concertos, some of it shines through in the last
movement of the Concerto grosso No 3.
Sometimes you just know that a disc is very good after only a couple
of tracks. That was my experience here. I was immediately struck
by the qualities of La Follia Barocca while listening the first
concerto. I had never heard of the ensemble before. The booklet
doesn't say when they were founded, but it reports concerts
in the USA which were "enthusiastically received".
That is easy to understand, judging by this recording which
apparently is their very first. They avoid the mannerisms of
which some Italian ensembles are guilty and no detail in these
concertos is overlooked. In many concertos there are little
peculiarities and La Follia Barocca make sure they don't escape
the listener's attention. What is very important is that the
theatrical character of Locatelli's music is fully explored.
The many features of these performances, like a logical choice
of tempi, a clear articulation, a wide variety in the dynamic
contrasts and a great clarity in sound, are all means to the
end of revealing the many qualities of these concertos.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this disc, because of the quality and the
sheer beauty of Locatelli's concertos, and also because of the
outstanding performances of La Follia Barocca. If everything has
gone according to plan the remaining six concertos were recorded
in June 2008. I very much look forward to the release of the second
volume of this fine project.
Johan van Veen