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Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753)
Concerti grossi Op.7 (1710)
Concerto for 4 violins in A minor, op. 7 No. 11 [19:12]
Concerto Grosso in G major, op. 7 No. 7 [7:43]
Concerto Grosso in D minor, op. 7 No. 2 [11:32]
Concerto Grosso in D minor, op. 7 No. 3 [9:50]
Concerto Grosso in A major, op. 7 No. 1 [15:55]
Concerto Grosso in A minor, op. 7 No. 10 [10:06]
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini
rec. 2001, Fresne-le-Chbteau, France.
ALPHA CLASSICS 310 [74:18]

This recording is a re-release of a disc that was also included in a box set called Italiane Baroque (see review). The original CD appeared on Zig-Zag Territoires and came highly recommended by Jonathan Rohr (see review). The producers have every right to be proud of this recording, and it is now volume 11 of the Alpha Collection with its distinctive red-themed artwork. These are packaged in slimline foldout sleeves but with full booklet notes, in this case in French and German as well as English. The notes in this case take the form of a new interview with Chiara Banchini, who tells us a little about Valentini the violinist-composer, and the distinction made between him and composer-violinists such as Vivaldi. Further reading elsewhere will tell you he was nicknamed Straccioncino or Little Ragamuffin, and that he was successor to Corelli as director of the concertino at San Luigi dei Francesci in Rome from 1710 to 1741.

There are some similarities with Vivaldi in this music, but there are also plenty of striking differences and harmonic gestures that Vivaldi would never have used. These are at once arguably on the naove side, but at the same time are features that make this recording something to which you will want to return time and time again. The Concerto No. 11 is entertainingly poetic and zippy by turns, and if you love Vivaldis Four Seasons then this will be your kind of CD. Movements such as the Fuga from the Concerto No. 7 make you glad to be alive, as do the chasing echoes of the Allegro assai final movement of this concerto  the harmonic progressions in which are the kind of completely bonkers feature that will make you want to play it again just to make sure it wasnt your imagination. The same goes for those unexpected sliding modulations in the Allegro third movement of the Concerto No. 2, and so we go from delight to delight.

This mixture of elegance and idiosyncratic oddness is performed with crisp freshness by Ensemble 415, and this is helped by a generally improvisatory attitude to solo parts, an aspect elaborated on by Banchini in the booklet. There is bags of virtuosity on display, but this is always in the service of the music. Stunning solo playing such as that in the remarkable Allegro second movement of the Concerto No. 3 creates a compulsive flow that takes flight and lifts your soul to new heights. The slow movements can take the form more of delicious intermezzi, but more extended examples such as the opening and indeed the third movement of the Concerto No. 1 have a special character all of their own. I also love the rustic feel of that Affettuoso last movement.

The sense of discovery is palpable throughout this recording, and I was surprised to find how little there is by way of competition in this repertoire. Weve had well over a decade since the original release of this recording, and I cant imagine why there arent more performers queuing up to make their own versions of these striking concerti. I would certainly be looking out for a complete Opus 7 set if one were to become available.

Dominy Clements

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