Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
30 Sonate Piccole - vol. 1
Sonata no. 1 in G [15:36]
Sonata no. 2 in D minor [7:10]
Sonata no. 3 in D [7:53]
Sonata no. 4 in C [11:00]
Sonata no. 5 in F [10:09]
Sonata no. 6 in E minor [7:30]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
rec. St John the Baptist, Aldbury, England, 5 January 2011. DDD
For British violinist extraordinaire Peter Sheppard Skærved, Giuseppe Tartini's so-called 'Little Sonatas' might be considered rather tame fare by comparison with some of his more recent projects, whether as part of the Kreutzer Quartet - like Gloria Coates's nine extraordinary quartets (review) - or as soloist, as in Paul Pellay's aptly-titled 'Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness', recently released on Métier (MSV 28527, review).
There is plenty of violinistic fiendishness in Tartini's famous 'Devil's Trill' sonata - all that many will know him for, regrettably - but in the Piccole Sonate the now older composer's writing is more subtle. Whilst the violinist is never far from the next virtuosic demand, Tartini had painstakingly assembled an incredible six hours' worth of solo music that focuses more on melodic invention - a reflection in fact of changing public taste. This first hour is, then, merely a taster. Whether the full cycle will be a commercial success is debatable, because Tartini's emotional range in this epic project - conceived by him as a whole, making it one of the longest works ever written - is trammelled both by those tastes and, arguably, by a possible pedagogic element. The Sonate Piccole, in other words, do not pack anything like the emotional punch of Bach's famous sonatas and partitas. Indeed, it is unlikely that many listeners will find much to tell apart this first batch beyond tonality and, to a lesser degree, length and configuration of movements; there are two three- and four four-movement works. Some may reach the conclusion that a single-volume sampler may be all that is required for appreciation.
Nevertheless, Skærved's recording purports to be the first complete one based on new research by him that has uncovered new or more reliable sources. By curious coincidence, Italian label Dynamic have jumped in with their own offering: the first of two double-disc recordings from the late 1990s by Slovenian violinist Crtomir Šiškovic (CDS721, presumably for Rivo Alto originally). Price differentials are minimal, and whereas Šiškovic's complete cycle is almost certain to be available first, Skærved's research means his is likely to be more authoritative - it will certainly offer a few extra sonatas, with Šiškovic's recording using the published edition containing only 26.
At any rate, it seems even less likely that many - violinists aside, perhaps - will feel they need two cycles. Decisions about which one to follow will come down to stylistic differences between Šiškovic and Skærved. In the latter's case, the connoisseur of fine musicianship is in the most secure of hands.
Sound quality is similar in both cycles - spacious, 'moist' and slightly resonant church acoustics. Another review of this Toccata disc describes the audio as "a mess. Beginning with an unsuitable church acoustic, the engineering delivers an in-your-face sonic perspective that no audience of Tartini's would have heard, and that can only be called brutally harsh." Skærved, on the other hand, praises his engineer's efforts thus: "We have endeavoured to find a sound that Tartini would have relished: not the violin at a distance, but up close, the grain and fibre of bow on string manifest, the extraordinary, and sometimes disturbing, resultant harmonics more apparent." Needless to say, Skærved is the one who knows what he is talking about. Similarly, his booklet notes are learnedly detailed and well written.
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With Skærved the connoisseur of fine musicianship is in the most secure of hands.

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