Interest in the music of Giuseppe Tartini is definitely growing
and this has resulted in several recordings of his music being
released in recent years. The two-disc set reviewed here is Volume
15 in a huge project aiming at covering all of Tartini's violin
concertos. No fewer than 135 concertos have been preserved, so
this is indeed a major undertaking which in itself deserves much
praise. It is even more impressive in the light of the fact that
only a small proportion of Tartini's output has been printed,
and that the autographs are often very difficult to read, as
Nicola Reniero explains in the booklet. But all the effort put
into this project certainly pays off, because these works are
just wonderful pieces of music.
They are very different from most Italian violin music we hear.
Tartini belongs to the era between baroque and classicism, and
music from this period is still largely neglected. That is certainly
the case with Italian music; one could get the impression that
after Vivaldi nothing of any substance was written. Tartini isn't
the only Italian composer of this era who has remained in the
shadows for far too long. Another Italian of the later 18th century,
Pietro Nardini, also a famous violinist and violin composer,
is almost completely ignored.
Tartini's critical remarks about Vivaldi's compositions for the
violin are frequently quoted. They are indeed useful to explain
how different these two men were. Tartini criticised in particular
the pyrotechnics in Vivaldi's concertos. His aesthetic ideals
were different: like others in his time he was a strong advocate
of naturalness in music. He was not the first: in 1720 Benedetto
Marcello (1686-1739) published a treatise in which he sharply
criticised the excrescences in the opera of his days, and decades
later Christoph Willibald von Gluck launched his famous opera
reform. Tartini did the same in his compositions for his own
The preference for naturalness didn't hold Tartini back from
writing demanding solo parts; these concertos are anything but
easy. But as William Carter, in the programme notes of Palladians'
recent recording with violin sonatas by Tartini (Linn Records),
states, his virtuosity "rises out of a desire to express
rather than amaze". And in his view it is his "intense
pictorial inward gaze which seems at least as strong as his desire
to create 'brave sport' that sets him somewhat apart from his
Tartini was strongly influenced by literature, in particular
poetry. He usually read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch
or Tasso before starting to compose. Quotations from these writings
are often included in his manuscripts. This poetic inspiration
is reflected in his concertos, which are dominated by lyricism
and expression of a rather introspective kind. The highlights
of the concertos played on these discs are the middle movements.
Of the eight concertos there are two with the indication 'adagio',
one is a 'largo' and the other five are andantes. One of them
is referred to as 'andante cantabile', but the addition 'cantabile'
can easily be applied to all concertos, and to all movements,
including the allegros which usually open and close these concertos.
The German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson stated that
it was melody rather than counterpoint which was the foundation
of music. Tartini seems to agree: there is very little counterpoint
here, but he certainly knew how to write beautiful melodies.
These concertos are full of them, and listening to these concertos
at a stretch is no problem at all, as Tartini time and again
comes up with new ideas.
That this set is captivating is also due to the performances.
The first volumes in this series were released in the late 1990s
and they didn't get very favourable reviews. The playing was
technically sometimes under par, and in particular the intonation
was often off the mark. In addition the recording wasn't up to
contemporary standards. I hadn't heard any later volumes since,
so I was curious to know whether these problems had been overcome.
I am happy to report that the standard of playing and recording
has vastly improved. Yes, there are still moments when the intonation
is a little suspect, in particular in virtuosic passages and
at the top of the violin's range. In the ensemble there are also
some precarious moments, but they are negligible in the light
of the overall level of performance. The three violinists share
the solo parts, and they all do a fine job. They add some ornamentation,
in a tasteful and never exaggerated way. In some movements they
play short cadenzas, and in these the players have captured the
spirit of Tartini's music very well.
This volume in a series of all Tartini's violin concertos is
an excellent way to get to know his music, and I wouldn't be
surprised if it encourages listeners to explore his oeuvre further.
It is to be hoped that the next volumes in this project are as
rewarding as this set.
Johan van Veen