Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824)
Quatuor Concertant no.1 in F, G.112 (1815) [22:14]
Quatuor Concertant no.2 in B flat, G.113 (1815) [25:48]
Quatuor Concertant no.3 in G, G.114 (1815) [22:34]
Members of I Solisti di Perugia: (Paolo Franceschini (violin); Luca Arcese (violin); Luca Ranieri (viola); Maria Cecilia Berioli (cello))
rec. Teatro della Concordia, Monte Castello di Vibio, Italy, 2-4 June 2008. DDD
CAMERATA CM-28170 [70:44]
Aside from his Paganini-like reputation as a violinist, Giovanni Viotti is probably best known for his 29 violin concertos, and rightly so. Nevertheless, he also wrote numerous, sonatas, duos, trios and quartets, in all of which the violin writing is dominant - and generally magnificent. Altogether he composed 18 string quartets, although three of these optionally replace the first violin with a flute, and further arranged several of his duos as string quartets. Viotti published the three on this release by Camerata, a Japanese label, as Quatuors Concertants in 1817. They were his last quartets, and differ somewhat from the rest in that the music is more evenly distributed among the four strings.
Despite their relatively late date, there is little of the ethos of Romanticism in these works - they are very much in the spirit of Haydn, right down to the four movement structure and minuet. There is no great virtuosity as such; in its place, moderation and clarity - but also an almost endless supply of cantabile lyricism and melodic invention. The three Quartets are a model lesson in how to write beguiling music of immediate appeal to a wide audience.
The website of I Solisti di Perugia, the Italian chamber orchestra from whose members the four soloists here are drawn, indicates a discography, achieved in only ten years, of at least 24 recordings, typically of 18th to early 19th century repertoire, so they are well versed in the conventions of the music. The soloists here perform solidly; whilst there is no great abundance of enthusiasm or excitement, nor are there any great lapses of discrimination, although judging by the tone of one of the violins, they do seem to be flagging slightly by the G major Quartet, in which there also appear to be a couple of recording mis-edits affecting the cello.
Sound quality is good on the whole, although the microphones are so placed that they pick up the sometimes excessive inhalations of at least one of the soloists, who sounds a little catarrhal. Also, there is a suspicion that a fraction of a second is missing from the beginnings of some tracks, particularly 5.
The booklet itself is reasonably attractive and informative. Although the essay on Viotti is, thankfully, written by a native English speaker, the biographies of the soloists unfortunately are not: "where she continued her studies with A. Bonucci passing out at the top of her class" - another example of editorial indiscretion undermining somewhat the quality of a finished disc.
No great abundance of enthusiasm or excitement, nor are there any great lapses of discrimination either.