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Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709)
Concerti grossi, Op.8, Nos. 1-12
Reinhold Barchet, Will Beh (violins)
Pro Musica Stuttgart/Rolf Reinhardt
rec. May 1954
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1562-63 [56:57+66:34]

For many years the go-to recorded performance of Torelli’s strangely overlooked Op.8 set of twelve Concerti grossi was that of I Musici with Mariana Sirbu, who takes the solo concertos, and Antonio Perez who joins her for the two violin concertos which are numbered one to six. This was an excellent and authoritative set but collectors with long memories would have remembered that decades earlier, and in mono, the set had already been recorded by Pro Musica Stuttgart under Rolf Reinhardt. The principal soloist was Reinhold Barchet, who had only a few years earlier made a well-regarded recording of the Four Seasons in Stuttgart with Munchinger, of late revived on Pristine Audio. For the two violin concertos he was joined by the second violinist in his eponymous quartet, Will Beh.

The most often encountered of the concertos in the set is No.6, 'con una Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale’ which has often been extracted for performance at Christmas. But it was daring of Vox to risk an LP set dedicated to all the concertos, thus preserving the fine playing of the soloists and the well-known ensemble virtues of the Stuttgart ensemble. Perhaps they wanted to carve out reportorial space in a market in which Boyd Neel had only just set down his complete recording of Handel’s own Concerti grossi, Op.6. In any case the Torelli was altogether rarer stuff, refined and smaller-scaled sonata de chiesa works with expressively clear-cut intent and no French or indeed Italian dance movements marked.

The two soloists are, predictably, a well-matched pair. Helma Elsner’s harpsichord is audible, though often only in those moments when the string texture thins. Both violinists phrase with grace and warmth and neither is especially sparing of vibrato. Rhythms are nicely pointed – No.4 is an especially good example of accenting – and expressive weight and refinement in No.5 are products of certain Old School elements that do not pall.

The more structurally complicated movements, such as the central movement of No.9, where the Largo moves into the central Allegro before returning is astutely traversed with no sense of the exaggerations that can bedevil ABA structures in performance, certainly in Baroque vocal music. Reinhardt is a sympathetic conductor allowing his own soloists sufficient phrasal latitude whilst ensuring no indulgence is wasted. Barchet’s lithe bowing in No.12 is pure pleasure.

If Barchet intrigues, seek out Scribendum’s recent reissues of his quartet and solo work; the recordings repay close listening. There are no notes but a few internet links. Forgotten Records has used good sounding LPs to transfer and the results are admirable; so too is the cover art, something of a departure for this label and a very welcome one.

Jonathan Woolf

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