Venezia violin Alpha935

Duello d’archi a Venezia
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768)
Concerto a 8 stromenti in D
Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
Concerto in C, op. 3,2
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
Concerto in F (D 61)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto in D ‘Il grosso Mogul’ (RV 208)
Chouchane Siranossian (violin)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
rec. 2022, Lonigo, Italy
Alpha Classics 935 [77]

When around 1600 a new style was introduced in Italy, one of its features was instrumental virtuosity. Composers started to explore the technical possibilities of the different instruments. One of them was the violin, which with time developed into the main instrument. Many sonatas and other pieces for violin were written in the course of the 17th century. Around 1700 a new genre was born: the solo concerto. No wonder that it was the violin, for which most of such works were written in the first decades of the 18th century.

Antonio Vivaldi was probably the first real virtuoso in the time of the solo concerto. Numerous such works he composed, either to perform them himself or for girls from the Ospedale della Pietà. On the present disc we get one of his most famous pieces, with the nickname ‘Il grosso Mogul’. It is an early work, as in the 1710s Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed it for organ. It has been preserved in autograph, which is part of the largest collection of Vivaldi works, conserved in Turin. The title of this work refers to the Mughal emperor Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, who reigned from 1556 to 1605 and is considered the greatest of Mughal emperors. It is not known why Vivaldi made this allusion, but Venice was a mercantile centre and had many contacts across the world, including the East. It is a prime example of Vivaldi’s virtuosity, and includes double stopping. A simplified version was later published as part of his Op. 7.

This attests to what needs to be taken into account with regard to the virtuosity: what has been printed or written down in manuscript is very likely only part of what was actually played. The German lawyer Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach was in Italy in 1715 and wrote in his diary: “[Towards] the end, Vivaldi played an accompagnement solo, in an admirable fashion, to which he finally added a fantasy [i.e. a solo cadence], which quite shocked me, since it is impossible that such has ever been played or can be played, because his fingers came only within a straw’s breadth of the bridge, so that there was no space for the bow, and this on all 4 strings with fugues and a velocity which is unbelievable, he astonished everyone with it, but I cannot say that it charmed me as it was more artfully done than it was pleasing to hear”.

Pietro Antonio Locatelli was also a great virtuoso, undoubtedly Vivaldi’s equal as far as his technical skills are concerned. However, his playing also received a mixed reception. The Dutch organist Jacob Wilhelm Lustig, while acknowledging Locatelli’s ability to captivate his audience with his virtuosity, stated that his playing was “so brutal that sensitive ears found it unbearable”. Locatelli’s violin concertos Op. 3 also attest to the fact that composers, when they published their music, aimed at a wider audience than virtuosos. He added extended cadenzas to the fast movements, which he called capricci, but their inclusion was ad libitum, which means that they could be omitted. After all, the solo parts as they were written were already difficult enough for most performers. The capricci seem to be a kind of compensation for the solo parts in the concertos: these are technically demanding, but not as theatrical as, for instance, the solo parts of many of Vivaldi’s concertos, including Il grosso Mogul. That certainly goes for the Concerto in C, whose first and third movements have the indication andante.

That is different in the Concerto a 8 stromenti in D by Francesco Maria Veracini. He considered himself the greatest violinist of his time, and his arrogance was proverbial. This piece is comparable with the concerti a molti stromenti by Vivaldi. It is scored for pairs of trumpets and oboes, timpani, strings and basso continuo. The violin has the main solos, but the fast movements also include solo episodes for the pairs of winds. In the slow movement the latter don’t participate, and there the violin reigns supreme. In the score this movement is rather short. “The ‘capriccio a piacere del violino‘ was developed by Chouchane Siranossian from various motifs found in other works by Veracini”, Olivier Fourès writes in his liner-notes. Its place is not indicated in the track-list, and Fourès does not mention where she has included it, but I assume that this is what makes the second movement’s taking a little over four minutes.

With Tartini we are in a different atmosphere. His violin concertos are certainly not devoid of virtuosity, but it is mostly not very demonstrative, and certainly not theatrical in the Vivaldian way. It was Vivaldi’s style of writing that Tartini was very critical about. He himself was inspired by literature, especially poetry, when composing his concertos. The Concerto in F performed here is a little different in that in the first movement is descriptive in its first half, as Fourès states: “[The] solo

begins with a caccia in F major, although the musical discourse quickly moves away from such descriptive writing with long and richly ornamented lines.” As is always the case, Tartini’s preference for expression comes especially to the fore in the slow movement, here a grave.

This recording offers an interesting confrontation of music by four great violinist-composers from the first half of the 18th century. Despite similarities in the technical requirements of their respective concertos, they represent different ways of treating the instrument in its solo role. That results in quite some variety, which is emphasized by the sensitive performances of Chichane Siranossian. She is a virtuoso alright, but she treats the material with differentiation. She fully explores the theatrical features, for instance in Vivaldi’s concerto, but the expression of the slow movements is not lost on her either. There she plays with subtlety and refinement in her ornamentation and dynamic differentiation. The Venice Baroque Orchestra is once again her perfect partner, moving at the same wavelength.

Every lover of the baroque violin will be delighted to listen to these performances.

A note on the booklet: the list of performers mentions two with the addition ‘trombone’; that should read ‘trumpet’. Fourès refers to horns in Veracini’s concerto, where he means trumpets. A little proofreading of the booklet should not have been amiss.

Johan van Veen

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