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Alfredo d’AMBROSIO (1871-1914)
Violin Concerto No.1 in B minor, Op.29 (1903) [26:00]
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.51 (1913) [33:40]
Laura Bortolotto (violin: Concerto 1)
Christian Sebastianutto (violin: Concerto 2)
Orchestre Nuove Assonnanze/Alan Freiles Magnatta
rec. live, 7 October 2018, Chiesa dei Servi, Lucca, Italy

Alfredo d’Ambrosio has always held a toehold on the repertoire of violinists via his morceaux, notably the Canzonetta and the Serenade. In pre-war days some of the elite of the profession recorded some of his works - Heifetz, Elman, Tertis, Sammons and Thibaud led the way though D’Ambrosio himself, an attractively small-scaled and salon-orientated player, also recorded a raft of his own works. A few other similarly light and charming pieces are occasionally dusted off by the adventurous recitalist looking for fringe repertoire. Peter Fisher, for instance, recorded both the Serenade and Canzonetta adding the Romance, Op.9 and Sonnet Allègre on his Litmus CD (review).

Now there is something altogether bigger. Though a cassette-made recording exists of the great Aldo Ferraresi performing Concerto No.1 (review), here is a chance to see filmed performances of both concertos the Neapolitan-born composer wrote, the first in 1903 and the second a decade later. They were recorded at the same concert in Lucca in October 2018, with two excellent young soloists, and the Orchestra Nuove Assonanze directed by Alan Freiles Magnatta.

Recorded in the beautiful Chiesa dei Servi, the camera direction is straightforward and unshowy and focuses on the musical matters, rather than panning or cross panning architecturally. The soloist in the First Concerto, written for Arrigo Serato, is Laura Bortolotto, whom I’ve heard before in Spohr (review) and in a filmed performance of Antonio Illersberg’s concerto which, like the d’Ambrosio, can be found on the Achord Pictures label (review). She plays with romantic expression, without a score, fully surmounting the tests of the opening dramatic recitativo – it must be a slightly unnerving experience for the soloist to be pitched into the concerto in this way – and displays much lyrical beauty and technical security. She maintains a fine body of tone throughout and revels in those Bruch-like moments of ripe amplitude. Contemporary critics may have grumbled about the work’s length, implying prolixity, but in a performance such as this one can listen without reservation, not least to the canto popolare-like richness of the slow movement and the dashing bravura of the finale.

The 1913 Concerto was dedicated to Jacques Thibaud but premiered by George Enescu. In conception and construction, it shows a somewhat more advanced outlook but retains the composer’s characteristic lyric quality. Christian Sebastianutto plays a 2018 fiddle and, unlike Bortolotto, plays from the score. One reason might be that the Second is even less well-known than the First Concerto. In fact, this is, I believe, its premiere recording in any form. Again, the soloist dives straight in, and whilst the orchestration is much more robust there is something slightly Franco-Delian about some of the writing. With greater fluidity than the 1903 concerto comes a more marked sense of flux and with tell-tale use of the harp in the ripely romantic slow movement, which ripples away delightfully, this is as engaging a concerto as the earlier one. The terpsichorean finale embeds a lovely lyric B section which Sebastianutto plays well.

The booklet is simply but well produced, in Italian and English, and the production generally fully supportive of the project.

These are d’Ambrosio’s biggest and ultimately most important works. Studio recordings by these artists would doubtless bring the works to a somewhat larger audience but for those intrigued by the repertoire there’s much to be enjoyed in these youthful, pliant performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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