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The 1690 ‘Tuscan’ Stradivari: Violin sonatas in 18th-century Italy
Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768)
Sonata ‘Accademica’ Op.2/12 in d minor: Ciaccona ( Allegro ma non presto) [5:38]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Sonata Op.4/8 in d minor [13:41]
Arcangeli CORELLI (1653-1713)
Sonata Op.5/9 in A [11:58]
Giuiseppe TARTINI (1691-1770)
Sonata Op.1/10 ‘Didone abbandonata’ in g minor [14:38]
Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764)
Sonata ‘Leufsta’ in g minor [8:45]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata F.XIII/16, RV34 in B-flat [7:10]
Fabio Biondi (violin ‘Il Toscano’; Antonio Stradivari, 1690. Museo degli Strumenti Musicali dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome)
Antonio Fantinuoli (cello); Giangiacomo Pinardi (theorbo); Paola Poncet (harpsichord)
rec. Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musica, January 2019. DDD.
GLOSSA GCD923412 [61:59] 

If you are not romantically inclined, the prospect of hearing these eighteenth-century violin sonatas played on an instrument contemporary with the composers, even if it is a Strad, may not tempt you to this CD. The 1690 ‘Tuscan’ is a superb instrument, in appearance as well as in tone, but that’s only part of the picture.

You may also think that the music itself doesn’t look very enticing, even with Fabio Biondi performing it. You would be wrong: this is not only an important release, it’s also very entertaining. These composers put a great deal of their ingenuity into writing for the violin, and not just for concertos. I’d go so far, in fact, as to place this release on a par with the three recordings which Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima made for Avie entitled The Rise of the North Italian Violin Concerto.

If you don’t yet know those Avie recordings, they should, perhaps, be your first priority: AV2016 – review DL Roundup October 2010, AV2128: Recording of the Month – review – and AV2154 – review – Recording of the Month – review. If you already have them, the new Glossa could well be next on your list.

Those who know Fabio Biondi’s track record in the music of this period will need no urging from me. His inexpensive recording of Vivaldi’s complete Op.8 concertos, including The Four Seasons (Erato Veritas 6025032) has been challenged only recently by the similarly inexpensive Brilliant Classics twofer from Federico Guglielmo and L’Arte dell’Arco (95045: Recording of the Month – review). Better still, the Biondi can be obtained in a 4-CD set, with the Op.3 concertos, L’estro armonico, for around 14 (6484082 – review).

Nothing on the new Glossa recording is as well known as those Vivaldi concertos, but there are no duds here – at least as performed by Biondi and his varied team, drawn from his Europa Galante ensemble. While his playing combines prestidigitation of a high order, nothing is done merely for show and the support keeps the music firmly grounded. The violin may be the star of the title, but it’s only one element in the success of this recording.

Best of all, you may find yourself wishing to explore the repertoire beyond these examples. An excellent place to start would be with the begetter of Italian violin music, Corelli. If the Chandos complete 4-hour set of his violin sonatas, Op.1 to Op.4, from the Purcell Quartet and Jacob Lindberg seems too much to take in at once (CHAN0692, download only), three 2-CD sets from Pavlo Beznosiuk and the Avison Ensemble are more manageable (Op.1 and Op.3, CKR414 – review review ; Op.2 and Op.4, CKR413: Recording of the Month – review ; Op.5, CKD412 – review)1.

It’s some time since I enjoyed the Linn recordings of the Op.5 set, so I turned to it for comparison with Biondi’s account on Glossa, tracks 6-9. Beznosiuk and his team are somewhat faster than Biondi’s, especially in the opening largo, which is given almost a romantic degree of weight on the new recording. Even at the Avison Ensemble’s faster tempo, the emotional content of the movement comes over, but, though I would have to make them my ‘Building a Library’ choice, I also enjoyed hearing Biondi’s interpretation. I now wonder why I didn’t make the Linn recording a Recording of the Month, so it’s only by the very highest standards that Biondi comes off marginally in silver medal position.

I was surprised to see the range of Fabio Biondi’s recordings since he changed allegiance to the Glossa label; I’ve heard only a fraction of them and I must catch up with the rest. Those that I have heard are all first-rate, including Vivaldi Concerti dell’addio (GCD923402 – Recording of the Month: review) and not least the new recording. His Caldara Morte e sepoltura di Cristo, made with the modern-instrument Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, seems to be a very rare misfire – review, though I was surprised to hear Barthold Kuijken turning in a livelier account of a Leclair concerto than Biondi – review.

The all too brief Vivaldi sonata which closes the programme sent me in search of Biondi’s earlier recording of the composer’s ‘Manchester’ sonatas, so-called because they were discovered in the Rylands Library there (Arcana A422). Indeed, it’s not just the first-rate performances and recording which make the new recording so worthwhile, it’s also the fact that it leads to further exploration of this repertoire. Not just one for niche interest. I should add my customary warning to shop around: prices for this album vary considerably, from 12.75 via $18.99 to 18.50.

1NB: new catalogue numbers for Op.1–Op.4. Now CD only, not SACD, but available as 24-bit downloads.

Brian Wilson

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