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Italiane Baroque - Sonatas and Concertos
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director)
Gli Incogniti/Amandine Beyer (solo violin and director) - CD 6 only
Full track-listing below
rec. 2001-08

This is a compilation box of previously released material - at least I think all of it is previously released. I tend not to be one of those critics who - perhaps reasonably - bang on about production values, poor font size, garish colour contrasts and all that jazz, but I have to admit to a certain feeling of helplessness when faced by the documentation. The name of the cellist in disc four is nowhere to be found in the booklet or box notes, and neither is that of the band, so I’ve inserted both in my track-listing below. The notes in a couple of the original releases that I have seen have not been retained and neither has the artwork. Instead the box is a bit utilitarian and a booklet interview with the two violin-directors Chiara Banchini and Amandine Beyer doesn’t offer much by way of compensation.
Once past that, things look up. Both Ensemble 415, who bear most of the musical burdens, and Gli Incogniti are top-class period ensembles and they are well-attuned to the aesthetics involved. There are crisp, strongly accenting performances to be heard of Valentini’s Concerti grossi in the first disc. The sonority is essentially sinewy, but attention to cadential passages is splendidly dramatic; the ensemble is well-balanced and concertante roles for the first violin are well taken. They certainly catch the melancholia explicit in the Tenth concerto. At least all the soloists from the band - it’s not just Bianchini - are noted. Phrasal breadth is perhaps even more impressive in their traversal of Geminiani’s Concerti grossi. Clarity of articulation is good and where the organ is prominent it remains well blended into the string sonority. Small details, such as the expressive diminuendo in the opening adagio of the G minor, are an index of the subtlety to be heard. Naturally Handel lovers will smile to hear where their hero borrowed music for his sonatas - an obvious example is the Gavotte of the Tenth concerto in F major.
The unfortunate cellist Gaetano Nasillo - for it is he - appears with Ensemble 15 and Chiara Banchini in disc four which is devoted to Neapolitan cello concertos: unfortunate to be omitted from the documentation, that is - not for any executant lack. He’s a fine musician, good at the doleful characterization in the first Nicola Fiorenza concerto, full of charm in the Porpora and cleverly dexterous in its operatic fast second movement. He’s equally effective in the music of the composer in this disc most well-known for his cello works, namely Leonardo Leo.
Vivaldi’s set of L’estro Armonico is arrestingly played. The reveille-like call-to-arms of the opening of RV553 is triumphantly done by Ensemble 415 and the many solos are sufficiently distinguished to give colour and variety to the sound world. The Four Seasons and some other concertos housed in disc six are the only performances in this box played by Gli Incogniti under their soloist and director Amandine Beyer. She has a distinctively resinous spiccato and there’s elegance in the group’s phrasing. The dog bark in the Largo of Spring is very loud. This is no pooch. The ensemble clearly enjoy tearing into the contrasts the music affords, but don’t overdo things. They’re a touch metrical in Autumn, but the Baroque guitar effects in Winter are good. There were two world premiere recordings in this disc; the G minor Concerto and that in B flat major, ‘per Signora Chiara’. The final disc is devoted to Albinoni and we’re back in the hands of Ensemble 415. His Sonatas are amongst the most beautiful and affectionately crafted of all of the music here and the ensemble plays it with great care and sensitivity. They generate a quiet intensity, whilst remaining careful to ensure instrumental balance, but they’re not afraid to make the occasional thwack in the interests of drama - listen to the finale of No.4. Almost every one of Albinoni’s slow movements is a beauty, but those of Nos. 2 and 5 are especially so. This is an outstanding disc.
But then this is a very worthwhile box, if somewhat catch-all in its way.
Jonathan Woolf 

Full track-listing
CD 1 [75:21]
Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753)
Concerti grossi Op.8; No.1 No.2 No.3 No.7 No.10 No.11
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director) with Olivia Centurioni, David Plantier, Stéphanie Pfister, (solo violins) 

CD 2 [57:08]
Francesco GEMIANINI (1687-1762)
Concerti grossi Nos 1-6 [
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director) with Stéphanie Pfister, Helena Zemanova, Odile Edouard, David Plantier, Olivia Centurioni, (solo violins) 

CD 3 [59:19]
Francesco GEMIANINI (1687-1762)
Concerti grossi Nos 7-12
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director) with Olivia Centurioni, David Plantier, Stéphanie Pfister (solo violins) 

CD 4 [70:05]
Nicolò FIORENZA (? - 1764)
Cello Concerto [15:20]
Cello Concerto [9:45]
Nicolò PORPORA (1686-1768)
Cello Concerto [18:24]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Cello Concerto [12:10]
Nicola SABATINO (1705-1796)
Cello Concerto [13:30]
Gaetano Nasillo (cello)/Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director)

CD 5 [54:01]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
L’ estro armonico Op.3 (1711); No.1; No.4, Mo.7, No.10
Concerto for four violins RV553 [10:21]
Concerto for three violins RV551 [10:11]
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director) with Leila Schayegh, David Plantier, Stéphanie Pfister, Eva Borhi (solo violins) 

CD 6 [70:58]
The Four Seasons
Concerto for two violins and cello RV578a in G minor [8:24]
Violin Concerto in B flat major Per Signora Chiara RV372 [12:27]
Violin Concerto in B minor RV390 [12:31]
Gli Incogniti/Amandine Beyer (solo violin and director) with Alba Roca, Flavio Losco, Bérengère maillard (solo violins)

CD 7 [54:13]
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Sinfonie a cinque per due violini, alto, tenore, violoncello e basso Op.2; Sonatas Nos. 1-6
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin and director)