Autour de Vivaldi
Carlo Alezio RAZETTI (?)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in f minor [12:30]
Giuseppe Matteo ALBERTI (1685-1751)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor [8:01]
Carlo TESSARINI (1690-1767)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F [7:46]
Andrea ZANI (1696-1757)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D [13:59]
Giovanni Baptista SOMIS (1686-1757)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in G [10:45]
Silvestro ROTONDI (?)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in f minor [8:56]
Ensemble Guidantus (Marco Pedrona (solo violin), Francesca Coppelli, Carlotta Arata (violin), Ciro Chiapponi (viola), Antonio Braidi (cello), Massimo Marchese (archlute, theorbo), Giovanna Fornari (harpsichord))
rec. March 2009, Aula Magna of Villa Levi, Coviolo - Reggio Emilia, Italy. DDD
SOLSTICE SOCD 257 [62:01]
Antonio Vivaldi is one of the hottest composers of the baroque era right now. Every year a whole stream of discs of his music is released. As a result many of his contemporaries are neglected. The composers represented on this disc are from that constituency. The concertos recorded here don't deserve to be ignored, although these performances serve them ill. More of that in a moment.
First the music. All concertos are from one manuscript, the 'Fonds Blancheton', which is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The French aristocrat Pierre Philibert de Blancheton (1697-1756) was a member of the Parliament of Metz, and an avid music-lover. Apparently he had a liking for Italian music, since the manuscript contains only music by Italian composers.
The collection comprises fifty violin concertos, three of which are by Vivaldi. Most composers on this disc are little known; some even completely unknown. That is the case with Carlo Alezio Razetti; even the dates of his birth and death are unknown. From 1727 he was a violinist in Turin, but that is about everything we know. Even less is known about Silvestro Rotondi: neither the dates of his birth and death nor where he worked. The Concerto in f minor from the Blancheton manuscript is the only composition by him which has come down to us.
The other composers have fared a little better. The works of Giuseppe Matteo Alberti have even been catalogued by Michael Talbot, the respected Vivaldi scholar. He made a career in Bologna, and from 1709 played in the orchestra of the basilica San Petronio. In 1705 he became a member of the renowned Accademia Filarmonica, and in 1721 was even elected its president.
Andrea Zani was born in Casalmaggiore, near Cremona, and stayed there most of his life. For a while he worked in Vienna as a violinist, at the invitation of Antonio Caldara. Five collections of his music were published during his lifetime, and his oeuvre includes 23 violin concertos, 12 cello concertos and two flute concertos.
The two best-known masters are Tessarini and Somis.
Carlo Tessarini was born in Rimini and in the 1720s and 1730s he worked as a violinist in Venice. He was a member of the orchestra of the San Marco and also worked as a violin teacher at the Ospedale dei Derelitti, one of the musical institutions for orphans. During his career he travelled quite a bit through Europe, and appeared in Brno, London and Paris. The last years of his life he spent in Amsterdam, where he also died.
Giovanni Battista Somis regularly appears in programme notes as he was a quite famous violin teacher. He had an international reputation as the list of his pupils indicates. Among them were Felice Giardini, Gaetano Pugnani, Jean-Marie Leclair and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. He was born in Turin, where he worked most of his life. In 1703 he went to Rome to study with Corelli. Back in Turin he played in the court orchestra, and became its director in 1736. From 1737 to 1757 he was musical and stage director of the Teatro Regio as well.
I have searched the internet but couldn't find any recordings of compositions by Somis. That is an indication of the neglect of composers in the shadow of Vivaldi, even of masters with such a reputation as Somis. Tessarini, in comparison, has fared a little better as two discs with some of his music are on the market. Hungaroton released one by Aura Musicale, directed by Balász Máté, in 2001, and the Italian label Symphonia produced another with the ensemble Compagnia de Musici, directed by Francesco Baroni, in 2003.
All but one of the concertos on this disc follow the pattern which was established by Vivaldi: three movements (fast-slow-fast) and a sequence of soli and ritornelli. These features are treated in various ways, though, as the programme notes explain. Although the dates of birth and death of Razetti are not known, he is probably the youngest composer on this disc, as his Concerto in f minor contains some Sturm und Drang elements. Silvestro Rotondi, on the other hand, is likely to be the oldest. His Concerto in f minor is the only piece in four movements, and follows the pattern of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. Interestingly he leaves this model in the second movement: it is not fugal, as one would expect, but here Rotondi adopts the modern form of the ritornello. The programme notes tell the first movement leads attacca to the second, but that seems a mistake as in this recording there is a clear gap between the movements.
And that brings me to the issue of the performances. I didn't know the Ensemble Guidantus, but in the biography I read: "The sparkling and polished performances combine mastery of the score with a clear and individual interpretation (...)." Sparkling the performances may be - they are certainly not boring - but polished? I have no problems with ensembles whose playing is a little less polished than that of the best in the business, but I had great problems with swallowing what we get here. There are many - too many - rough edges, both in the soli and in the tutti. The sound of in particular the solo violin is often unpleasantly sharp, and sometimes even scratchy.
Part of the problem is that the Ensemble Guidantus uses modern instruments. The players follow the principles of historical performance practice, and they do that pretty well. But at the same time this disc shows the problems of using modern instruments in this kind of repertoire. In particular fast passagework in the solo part sounds uncomfortable on the modern violin. That said, other 'modern' ensembles have done much better than the Ensemble Guidantus. Using modern instruments in baroque repertoire is no excuse for unsatisfying ensemble, or less than perfect intonation.
The music on this disc is really good stuff, and that makes it all the more disappointing that it isn't accorded better treatment. It is a big shame that an interesting project like this runs off the rails due to technical shortcomings. The manuscript deserves to be thoroughly explored, but by a better ensemble, and preferably on period instruments.
Johan van Veen