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Sonar in Ottava – Double Concertos for violin and violoncello piccolo
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia in D, RV125, for strings (reconstructed by Olivier Fourés) [6:52]
Concerto in C, RV508, for violin and violoncello piccolo [10:44]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in d minor, BWV1043, for violin and violoncello piccolo [14:30]
Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756)
Sonata in c minor, DürG14 for strings [11:27]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Concerto in d minor, BWV1060, for violin and violoncello piccolo [13:53]
Concerto in E-flat, RV515, for violin and violoncello piccolo [12:52]
Giuliano Carmignola (violin: Pietro Guarneri, Venice 1733); Mario Brunello (four-string violoncello piccolo: Filippo Fasser, Brescia 2017, after Antonio and Girolamo Amati, Cremona 1600-10)
Accademia dell’Annunciata/Riccardo Doni (harpsichord)
rec. 26-30 June 2018, Church of the Convento dell’Annunciata, Abbiategrasso, Milan. DDD.
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview.
ARCANA A472 [69:57]

First a slight disappointment: these double concertos for violin and violoncello piccolo are not new discoveries but putative reconstructions of how some of the music of Bach and Vivaldi, some of it known to be adapted from earlier versions, might have sounded. In their published scoring: Concertos RV508, RV515 and BWV1043 for two violins; Concerto BWV1060 for two harpsichords in c minor (here transposed a tone higher).

First and foremost, this album offers an opportunity for two old friends, originally teacher and student, who have both gone on to make some very fine recordings, to get together. If that’s an excuse, I’m glad that they made the experiment. Whatever the claimed ‘persuasive historical and musicological evidence’1, the result is credible and, more to the point, delightful.

I’m pleased, too, to hear the Goldberg sonata; we hear too little of this composer whose theme inspired Bach to compose his Goldberg Variations. There are two other current recordings of the sonata, including a Bridge album with the title Beyond the Variations, which Dominy Clements recommended purchasing post-haste (Bridge 9478 – review). Here it makes a very fine central hinge in the Bach and Vivaldi programme.

Giuliano Carmignola is not known for hanging around; whether it’s due to his influence or not, the Bach and Vivaldi works are taken at quite a pace. He’s also known for the respect he showed for the music, with nothing scrambled, on his earlier recordings for DG Archiv; Michael Cookson typified his album of five Vivaldi concertos, all first recordings, as ‘beautifully performed and recorded’ – review. I could easily say the same about this new release, especially as Arcana have accorded him a recording quality to match the DG. My review copy came in lossless, CD-quality, wav format – congratulations to the Outhere group for listening to requests for review tracks in better than mp3 – and I presume that there will be an even better 24-bit download, as well, of course, as the CD.

In fact, these recordings are notable for liveliness rather than speed per se. Comparison with Isabelle Faust, much lauded in these Bach concertos, a recording which Simon Thompson thought ‘a real treat’, with Bernhard Forck (second violin) and Xenia Loeffler (oboe) reveals that she and her Berlin team are consistently a few seconds faster (Harmonia HMM902335.36, 2 CDs for around £13 – review).

This is not all about Carmignola, however. Cellist Mario Brunello, though less a baroque specialist than his erstwhile teacher, has recently recorded Bach’s violin sonatas and partitas on the large violin/small cello, the violoncello piccolo (Arcana A469, 2 CDs). I missed reviewing that when it was released in October 2019.

The great thing about the music of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel is that it’s very flexible; after all, they were constantly adapting and borrowing their own music and one another’s, so that you think ‘Oh, that’s x, but not as I know it’ – music from The Seasons as an opera aria, a secular aria transposed into a movement in a sacred cantata or oratorio. I’ve heard both the Bach violin sonatas and partitas and the cello sonatas successfully played on the viola, and we know that BWV1060, though published for two harpsichords, originated as for violin and oboe, while BWV1043 transitioned into a double-harpsichord concerto, BWV1062. Even transposing the music is not innovatory: BWV1043 in its guise as BWV1062 is in g minor, while BWV1060 was probably still in c minor.

I think the violin sonatas and partitas on the violoncello piccolo on the earlier recording may take rather longer to get used to than the adapted concertos on the new album. I found hearing them on the deeper-throated instrument a little unsettling, whereas I took to the concertos immediately. Perhaps that’s because in their new guise the violin works – which, as far as I know were never intended for another instrument, though Bach did employ the violoncello piccolo in some cantatas – now sound more intellectual and academic, less immediately approachable. But, then, I have never loved the cello sonatas, even played by the likes of Casals, as much as their violin cousins.

Much of the success of Carmignola’s DG and Sony recordings came from the support of the Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon, and as soloist and conductor with Concerto Köln. The Accademia dell’Annunciata and Riccardo Doni are equally supportive. I’m not aware of having heard either before – this is, I think, the Accademia’s first outing on record and only Doni’s second in the driver’s seat, having previously recorded as a member of Il Giardino Armonico – but I’d like to hear more. As well as making excellent accompanists, they get us off to a good start under their own steam with the Vivaldi sinfonia.

If Brunello’s experiment with the Bach violin sonatas and partitas is only partially successful, his partnership with Carmignola here gives us a recording to equal the latter’s very successful solo recordings. A very fine team of performers and recording engineers have co-operated to produce a very enjoyable album. You don’t need to get involved in any academic justification; because Bach and Vivaldi share an infinite variety, it all works well. 

1 This claim in the blurb is partially negated by a comment in the booklet that ‘The custom of combining two different concertante instruments was … not very common in the 18th century.’

Brian Wilson

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