Good Viotti and Nardini, but Hold the Vivaldi
M. C. Passarella | Lawrenceville, GA | 10/15/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The most welcome selection here is the Viotti concerto, the Italian composer's most famous, at least at one time. Even Brahms declared his love for the work, and it's easy to hear why. Among 18th-century Classical concertos, it has no equal that I can think of, especially since the two greatest composers of the era, Mozart and Haydn, wrote no violin concertos in their full maturity. It's a big concerto, with a long (three minutes) orchestral introduction and with big gestures, including parts for trumpets and drums, which add to the dark drama of the first movement. The work seems to start with an air of tragic resignation, but this gives way to more passionate outbursts, especially when the soloist enters, as if the violin represents a questioning, even resistant voice.
Maybe that's putting too romantic a gloss on a concerto written in 1792, but then Scherzer and Koch bring a more romantic sensibility to the work than you might hear in a recording made these days, when so many performers heed the call of period authenticity. I think the more romantic approach has its pluses as well, pointing forward to Beethoven and Spohr, both of whom were directly influenced by Viotti. Incidentally, the last movement rondo includes a catchy jig-like melody for the violin that may pay homage to the British Isles, where the work was written and first performed.
Romanticism has its place in a performance of the Nardini concerto as well because though Nardini wrote during the early Classical period, his "concerto" is actually a compilation of parts of two of his violin sonatas, stitched together and orchestrated by one Emilio Pente in the last part of the 19th century. The recreation is about as faithful to the world of 1770 as Tchaikovsky's "Rococo Variations" is; at least there is a continuo harpsichord in the mix. However authentic (or not) the concerto is, it's lovely sounding, with a yearning slow movement and a sunny last movement whose first melody plays major-key statement off against minor-key echo. The Nardini, too, was once a staple of major violinists, and I know of recordings by Mischa Elman and Pinchas Zuckerman, neither of which is currently available. So it's nice to have the concerto back again, in a very good performance.
I've left the Vivaldi for last because it's the least in more than one way. One of Vivaldi's earlier concerti, it's pretty short to begin with though long on minor-key drama. But Scherzer and Koch play down that drama. Scherzer applies an almost cloying legato to the solo line, and the orchestra, too, plays with a seamlessness bordering on portamento that is more High Romantic than High Baroque. A big, uncalled for ritard at the end of the slow movement is another giveaway. This is really old-school Baroque. Comparing it to, say, Fabio Biondi's performance on Virgin, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a different piece of music entirely. In Biondi's hands, the music is clipped, almost brutally telegraphed, and while I think the real Vivaldi may lie somewhere between these extremes, I believe Biondi has far more of a handle on the Red Priest.
But no matter. The real meat of the recording is the Viotti and Nardini. And these composers the violinist and orchestra play very well, Scherzer bringing a sweet and expressive tone to his solo work. The recording, made way back in the early 70s, is good, with the soloist realistically captured and placed in a realistic perspective vis-a-vis the orchestra, though orchestral detail could be a mite clearer."
P. R. Rustage | 09/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this recording principally for the Nardini concerto. About forty years ago I had a performance of the Nardini on a "Pan" LP and although the record is long gone my memories of the concerto remained vivid. Currently this is the only recording of the concerto I could find in the catalogue! (There may appear to be others but inevitably they turn out to be this same recording in a different package). As a hybrid work (original baroque material reworked by a late romantic arranger) the Nardini is unusual and engaging with a sumptuous slow movement deserving of greater exposure. This performance is perfectly fine and hits the right balance between the two styles (my older version was much more romantic and soupy). There is, I believe, another more authentic concerto by Nardini, completed during his life. So far no-one seems to have thought it worth recording though which is a pity.
The Viotti was a new and very pleasant experience for me and I am pleased that in trying to replace an old favorite I have found something new to like. The work is substantial and reminiscent of Mozart but pre-echos of Mendelssohn are definitely apparent at times. I found the performance just a shade plodding in parts but it picks up well for the final movement which is full of fun. This is number 22 of 29 concertos written by Viotti and has spurred me to listen to more of them and even contemplate the 10 CD Viotti: Complete Violin Concertos [Box Set] on import from "Italian Dynamic"
Alas, I must share lpassarella's view on the Vivaldi. So much has happened in the field of Vivaldi interpretation since this recording was made that by comparison this now sounds heavy and pedestrian even though at the time this would have been a prefectly respectable performance. It is however only a small part of the CD which is still well worth it for the other two gems.