Giovanni and Tomaso Vitali were father and son violinist composers from Bologna who made their living in the court of Modena. Their toehold on the Baroque repertoire is almost exclusively due to the Chaconne of Tomaso which opens this recording. It features on 29 of the 33 recordings of works by Tomaso (according to Arkiv Music), and has been recorded by such luminaries as Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Arthur Grumiaux and Zino Francescatti.
Their styles are an interesting mix of the prevailing Italian sonatas and French dance suites. The choice of continuo instruments changes from one work to the next, providing great contrast and interest. While Tomaso’s name is the one that survives best because of the chaconne, it is his father’s compositions that impress more. The two bergamascas, one for bass viol and the other for violin, are treasures in miniature.
Recently, I reviewed a recording of sonatas by Antonio Bertali
, a contemporary of the Vitalis. Reluctantly, I had to comment on the occasional problems of intonation that were evident. There is absolutely no such problem here. Every performer is totally secure. There is no harshness in the bowings, and the tempos are well judged, and never rushed, a failing of some historically informed Baroque performers.
The notes are a model of informed clarity that other labels would do well to consider. From what I imagine is a relatively small pool of information about these composers, Jérôme Lejeune has fashioned seven pages of well-written commentary on the lives of the composers and their times, and analyses of the music, which do not require a degree in music theory to understand. Stéphanie de Failly has contributed her personal thoughts about the connection between violinist and historic violin: she plays a 1620 Giovanni Paolo Maggini instrument.
This is an outstanding release in all respects. It will be in my Recordings of the Year come December, and if I hear better this year, I will count myself very lucky indeed.