Tomaso ALBINONI (1672-1751)
Concerto a Cinque Op.10 (publ. 1735-36)
Concerto No.4 in G major [10:25]
Concerto No.11 in C minor [8:09]
Concerto No.9 in C major [8:09]
Concerto No.8 in G minor [8:01]
Concerto No.5 in A major [8:35]
Concerto No.7 in F major [9:37]
Concerto No.2 in G minor [10:15]
Concerto No.1 in B-flat major [6:36]
Harmonices Mundi/Claudio Astronio
rec. 6-8 September 2004, Sala Gustav Mahler, Centro Convegni Grand Hotel Dobbiaco. SACD
ARTS 47747-8 [72:12]

Two English comments from the 1770s throw interesting light on Albinoni’s reputation in the years after his death. Sir Charles Burney, in his General History of Music (1776-89) writes of “Tomaso Albinoni, a composer well known in England about forty or fifty years ago, by some light and easy concertos for violins, but better known at Venice by thirty-three dramas which he set to music”; Sir John Hawkins, writing in his General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776) tells us that Albinoni’s works “were sundry times printed, and at length become so familiar in England, that many of the common fiddlers [sic] were able to play them”. Both bear witness to the familiarity of Albinoni’s instrumental music; both perhaps contain implications that it was perhaps over-familiar and was by then decidedly dated; both view it as offering fewer challenges to the player than the music of some of his contemporaries - Burney calls Albinoni’s music “light and easy” and Hawkins (with a hint of snobbery) declares “that many of the common fiddlers” were able to play it.

Certainly Albinoni’s concertos didn’t require virtuoso instrumentalists and were much explored by amateur musicians of a high standard. The Op. 10 concertos formed the last of Albinoni’s series of published collections of sinfonias and concerti a cinque. They have qualities of elegance and clarity, the work of an experienced and sophisticated composer who doesn’t appear to be attempting anything startlingly new, but who has established a musical mode in which he is entirely comfortable and which he can gently expand and extend as occasion dictates. There is often a sense of real chamber music collegiality in these concertos, in which the soloists are not excessively foregrounded and in which their roles are often as much decorative as expressive. For all that, Albinoni has a real capacity for the invention of attractive melodies - as, for example, in the central slow movement of Concerto No. 5 - and much of his writing in these concertos has an attractive calmness and poise.

As my earlier quotation from Burney reminds us, Albinoni had a substantial and lasting fame in Italy as an operatic composer. We know the titles of over fifty of his operas, but by far the greater part of this output is now lost. But it isn’t, I think, fanciful to hear in these concertos echoes of a man of great theatrical experience. In Concerto No. 7, for example, there is much in the phrasing that reminds one of contemporary operatic idiom.

Albinoni often seems a composer relatively uninfluenced by many of his contemporaries, a man who established his own ‘language’ quite early and then went on refining it. While that may largely be true, this final set of concertos suggests that he was able to listen and learn too. As Claudio Toscani suggests in his excellent booklet notes, there are more than a few “typically gallant inflections” and, in Concerto No. 11 there are musical reminders that the whole collection is dedicated to Don Luca Fernando Patiño, Marquis of Castelan, as Albinoni alludes to the music of the guitar and even to flamenco-like rhythms.

Throughout Harmonices Mundi, directed by Claudio Astronio, play with idiomatic vivacity, while respecting the elegant poise of so much of the music. The recorded sound is excellent, and the disc puts a very eloquent case for Albinoni’s final collection of concertos.

Glyn Pursglove 
See also review by Dominy Clements