Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824)
Violin Concertos, String Quartets, Trios, Serenades, Nocturnes, Violin Sonatas, Duetti Concertante.
No recording details provided
Full contents and artist list at end of review
DYNAMIC CDS 689/1-9 [9 CDs: 570:42]
Dynamic has corralled many of its Viotti recordings in this 9 CD set. Note, however, at the outset, that it contains only a percentage of the complete violin concertos and for these - played by Franco Mezzena and Symphonia Perusina - you will need CDS 498/1-10, a ten CD box priced ‘as for three’, which is something of a bargain. That is if you really do want all Viotti’s concertos for his own instrument.
If you don’t, then this more general set, which contains nine violin concertos, may be the answer. The first disc features Mezzana but with the Viotti Chamber Orchestra directed by Luciano Borin. The first two concertos are here, along with No.19. This last concerto demonstrates the expressive strides Viotti had made; the ardent refinement of its slow movement leads the way to the better known No.22. Mezzana plays with a fine tone, maintaining a good body in his lower register. When he plays and directs Symphonia Perusina one feels the orchestral weight is a touch lighter, the playing a bit freer. He encourages a stormy orchestral introduction in both No 22 and 24, more Sturm und Drang than anything, and plays with correspondingly adroit musicality. His passagework is excellent and only occasionally do we find him rushing his bars. He’s, all things considered, an outstanding guide to the concertos.
The quartets are played by Quartetto Aira. The influence seems to be Haydn, the ethos is often concertante, amiably virtuosic with stately, not especially rich slow movements. Sometimes Viotti doesn’t characterise the movements sufficiently, but when he does, as in the opening of the B flat major - when he quasi-cadentially introduces each instrument in turn - then the music becomes more intriguing. Disc five offers the Trios for two violins and cello and the Serenades for two violins. These again are effective but not especially distinctive. The Brothers Guglielmo dig into the second Trio with abandon, though the milieu is more elegant than expressive.
There is a disc of flute music, which sits a bit oddly given the otherwise all-violin nature of the set. Mario Carbotta and Carlo Balzaretti play adeptly and there is a just balance between them, but as with the string quartets, there’s a slightly studied, if not detached air about the slower movements. It’s more public than interior music.
This can’t be said in the two discs devoted to his Violin Sonatas. Here we have the superb Felix Ayo accompanied by Corrado De Bernart. These sonatas were clearly written for Viotti himself to play and their grandeur, command and virtuosity lift them well above the other chamber works we have heard. His compact command of lyricism and his gift for gracious turns of phrase - try the opening Maestoso of Op.4 No.5 - alert one to Viotti’s status as one of the great executants of the age. These excellent sonatas deserve repeated re-hearing, not least in the, say, slow movement of the E flat major from Book 2. Here Ayo’s sweetly focused tone meets Viotti’s truer self and the result is a ripening of feeling. Here Viotti abandons the carapace of gentility that sometimes shadows the other chamber works. Here, in short, Viotti sings.
The final disc contains the Duetti Concertante and two Serenades. The two-violin team is Duo Deschka: Dina Schneidermann and Emil Kamilarov. They are quite a gutsy duo and don’t take prisoners. I would have welcomed greater lyricism and refinement. The Viotti dream-team here would have been Ayo and Mezzena.
If you’re looking for a handy, cheap and well played Viotti box without specialising in all the violin concertos, this set will do nicely.
Jonathan Woolf  
A handy, cheap and well played Viotti box without specialising in all the violin concertos. 

Full Contents List

CD 1 [72:19]
Violin Concerto Nos. 1 in C major CW:I:1 (1782) [22:25
Violin Concerto No.2 in E major CW I:2 (1782) [21:15]
Violin Concerto No.19 in G major CW I:19 (1791) [31:26]

CD 2 [64:22]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major CW I:4 (1782) [16:08]
Violin Concerto No.20 in D major CW I:20 (c.1792-95) [21:05]
Violin Concerto No. 27 in C major CW I;27 (c.1795) [26:49]

CD 3 [78:15]
Violin Concertos No. 22 in A minor CW I:22 (c,1792-97) [26:18]
Violin Concerto No.24 in B minor CW I:24 (1792-97) [26:13]
Violin Concerto No.28 in A minor CW I:28 (c.1805) [25:40]

CD 4 [70:46]
String Quartet No.1 in F major (c.1783-85) [20:44]
String Quartet No.2 in B flat major (c.1783-85) [16:36]
String Quartet No.3 in G major (c.1783-85) [22:28]

CD 5 [61:23]
Trio II in E major for two violins and cello (c.1783-85) [14:15]
Trio III in G major for two violins and cello (c.1783-85) [14:10]
Serenade I in A major for two violins (c.1783-85) [8:23]
Serenade II in D major for two violins (c.1783-85) [10:36]
Serenade III in G major for two violins (c.1783-85) [13:21]

CD 6 [42:59]
Nocturne I for flute and piano [7:52]
Nocturne II for flute and piano [5:39]
Nocturne III for flute and piano [7:29]
Serenade I for flute and piano [10:36]
Serenade II for flute and piano [11:23]

CD 7 [55:26]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.1 in E major (c.1785) [13:39]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.2 in A major (c.1785) [13:06]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.3 in D major (c.1785) [15:16]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.4 in B flat major (c.1785) [12:54]

CD 8 [62:46]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.5 in E flat major (c.1785) [14:34]
Sonata for violin and piano Op.4 No.6 in B flat minor (c.1785) [16:49]
Sonata for violin and piano No.1 Book 2 in A major (c.1785) [14:38]
Sonata for violin and piano No.2 Book 2 in E flat major (c.1785) [16:16]

CD 9 [62:26]
Duetto Concertante I in D major (1784) [13:15]
Duetto Concertante II in D minor (1784) [20:41]
Serenade IV for two violins in E flat major (1815) [12:41]
Serenade IV for two violins in E major (1815) [14:39]

Franco Mezzena (violin)/Viotti Chamber Orchestra/Luciano Borin (CD 1)
Franco Mezzena (violin and director) with Symphonia Perusina (CD 2and 3)
Quartetto Aira (CD 4)
L’Arte dell’Arco - Giovanni and Federico Guglielmo (violins) and Pietro Bosna (cello) (CD 5)
Mario Carbotta (flute); Carlo Balzaretti (piano) (CD 6)
Felix Ayo (violin): Corrado De Bernart (piano) (CD 7 and 8)
Duo Deschka - Dina Schneidermann and Emil Kamilarov (violins) (CD 9)
No recording details provided