Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755)
Concertos for Strings
Concerto No. 1 in F minor [12:59]
Concerto No. 2 in G minor [11:48]
Concerto No. 3 in E flat major [10:15]
Concerto No. 4 in E minor [10:12]
Concerto No. 5 in A major [8:05]
Concerto No. 6 in A major [11:36]
Concerto No. 7 in C major [11:47]
Concerto No. 8 in A major ‘La Pazzia’ [13:46]
Concerto in B flat major [7:58]
Ensemble Imaginaire/Cristina Corrieri
rec. 2016, Sala Eleonora Tallone, Orta San Giulio, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95542 [45:25 + 52:40]
Francesco Durante was a prominent member of the Neapolitan school of composers in the 18th century, whose musical techniques pioneered the galant style which would become more widespread among composers later in that century. The variety of forms and movements within this set of Concertos for Strings perhaps owe more to the Baroque format of the Suite than the formalised pattern of the three or four movement standard concerto, widely accepted by the time of their composition, which Grove surmises to have been during the late 1730s or early 1740s. But it is interesting to note how some ingenuities parallel the daring experiments of Haydn and Beethoven in their symphonies and concertos, such as the unexpected interruption to the course of No. 8’s jaunty Allegro and subsequent alternation of the full ensemble and the two solo violas, or the C minor Minuet of No. 3 whose Trio follows in the unrelated key of B flat minor, before the Minuet is also unconventionally reprised in the latter key.
The Baroque characteristic of sharply and quickly shifting contrasts looms large in the music, however, and it is somewhat unsettling to find that Ensemble Imaginaire’s performance of No. 1, which opens the cycle, sounds rather wan and monochrome. Their drooping tone in the first movement is presumably designed to match the chromatic character of this music in the dark key of F minor, and the prosaic shading off of phrases in the Andante invokes an introverted, forlorn mood. But comparison between the interpretation of this Concerto and the subsequent items in the set suggests that Cristina Corrieri consciously adopts the Baroque phenomenon of Affekt in her approach to these works. The result is a distinctive character for each Concerto as a whole, but creating greater contrast between each one rather than within a single Concerto, or even within movements. No. 2 cultivates an unsettled, heaving passion, with its Largo affettuoso seeming more lovesick in its bitter-sweet swooping between notes than winsomely affectionate, and a woozy effect in its finale. No. 3 achieves a clearer, more open sound and breadth, if not the same heroic stamp that Beethoven and the Romantics after him would associate with E flat major, which is not a natural key for strings. If No. 4 returns to the wan, sobbing mood of No. 1, then Nos. 5, 6 and 7 all embody a bright and bustling sound, though also somewhat spindly, which is perhaps inevitable in these performances which feature one performer to a part.
Using the minimum number of performers that could be called upon for these works (one to a part) tends to result in a lack of variety in timbre and dynamic. A larger ensemble could effect a better contrast between the ripieno and concertino, or orchestral and solo, passages of the score, but even without that, Ensemble Imaginaire could have exploited a greater range of dynamics in order to create the semblance of an interplay between competing groups of instrumentalists. The ‘Amoroso’ movement of No. 6, for example, sounds more indifferent than amorous, just as other slow movements also sound routine, and the final Allegro of No. 1 could be more furious. But the introduction of a second viola in No. 8 stimulates some warm duet passages, and pitted against the cello and double bass they delineate a similar palette of subtle gradations in string sonority as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 with its scoring for similar, more mellow, strings.
This release claims to be the first complete set of this Concerto cycle, as it includes what is apparently the world premiere recording of the B flat Concerto, which is found in the manuscript score of the series in place of what came to be No. 2 here in the subsequent printed sources, but nowhere else, and hence neglected by posterity. The recording of the officially numbered eight Concertos by Concerto Köln is a more consistently pleasurable experience, but the completeness of this issue might recommend it to specialists.