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Gaetano PUGNANI (1731-1798)
Violin concerto in D major [28:23]
Violin concerto in A major [32:33]
Roberto Noferini (violin)
Orchestra Nuove Assonanze / Alan Freiles Magnatta
rec. 2014, Oratorio di San Francesco Poverini, Florence
TACTUS TC731601 [58:05]

It’s perhaps unfortunate that for so long Pugnani was better known for Fritz Kreisler’s appropriation of his name for the Austrian’s own Praeludium and Allegro than for his own raft of attractive and distinctive pieces. Pugnani was an important, pivotal figure. He was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Somis – who had been a pupil of Corelli – as well as of Pasquale Bini, and Pugnani later taught Viotti. In Pugnani the Corellian and the Roman traditions (the latter via Bini) fused.

As an eminent violinist, who played across Europe and Russia he was perfectly placed to write for his own instrument. Sonatas for two violins and single violin sonatas with continuo have been recorded but the large-scale works have fared altogether less well. The two violin concertos here are heard in world premiere recordings. The D major concerto was found by Adam Rieger in the Nauk Library of Krakow in the 1970s. The manuscript was not in the composer’s hand but had been copied by none other than Jean Jacques Rousseau, a frequent transcriber of scores.

Pugnani’s writing was adventurous. He wasn’t afraid to take the soloist high, nor did he stint virtuosic passagework. Above all, he was a real melodist, and one predicated on vocalised cantabile. All this makes for delightful and rewarding listening. The D major is graced with an avuncular orchestration that launches the soloist’s silvery passagework; clever, clean, clear and formally accomplished. There’s a fine orchestral lurch into the first movement cadenza, which is the work of soloist Roberto Noferini. With a beautifully poised slow movement, with the soloist singing over an expressive orchestral cushion, one relaxes into the luxury of a bel canto few minutes before the orchestra suddenly and surprisngly breaks into pizzicati, driving the soloist into still more operatic richness. The buoyant finale seems to quote Locatelli in the ‘a capriccio’ section.

The companion work is cast on a somewhat broader canvas with the horns prominent in the balance and the oboes singing clearly. There is much to catch the ear, such as the lyrical exchanges between soloist and orchestra – real dialogues not merely supportive orchestration – and in the Largo an expressive song so good it could have been a slow aria in an opera by Porpora. The lyric pathos of this movement is followed by the aerial devilry of a spirited finale, with at one point the soloist in a whirligig of perpetual motion.

The band lines up 4-4-2-2 with two oboes and two horns and plays on modern instruments. The church sounds relatively large but the small ensemble, expertly directed by Alan Freiles Magnatta, expands to fill the acoustic well and there’s no blunting of attacks or accents. The recording works well in fact. Noferini is a stylish, stylistically elegant soloist, clean of attack, generously lyrical, secure in alt.

With excellent booklet notes into the bargain this is a valuable addition to the catalogue of eighteenth-century Italian concertos on disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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