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This is a reissue of 5 of the many recordings made by Fabio Biondi for Opus 111 in the 1990s, they are still in their original packaging in a cardboard slip cover but at a bargain basement price. As Europa Galante directed by Fabio Biondi are, in my opinion, the best interpreters of the Italian Baroque we can take it as read that the performances on all 5 discs are first rate, and the sound quality on all 5 discs is excellent, too. Writing a full review of all 5 discs is too large a task, as is reading 5 reviews in one go, so I will try to briefly inform the reader about the music on each of the CDs, roughly in the order of dates of composition.
The first CD is titled " Invenzioni Stravaganze", which really does not need translation, covers the period of Italian music in the early-mid 17th century, up to the time of Corelli. This is the period in which the violin, which started as a new instrument, became the most important. Compositions from eight composers are offered, the earliest work from 1613 and the latest 1674. While most of the names were vaguely familiar, I knew little about them or their works before I acquired these CDs. I particularly enjoyed the compositions of Uccelli, Mazzerferetta and Falconio, For these recordings Europa Galante uses 2 violins, viola, cello, theorbo and harpsichord; I also liked the way the theorbo was used as a constant but discrete companion of the harpsichord.
I enjoyed this CD, which I probably would not have bought if it had not been in this discount reissue, and warmly recommend it to anyone interested in the baroque who would like to hear what it sounded like before Corelli.
The second CD is devoted to the works of Francesco Geminiani, 1687-1762, a pupil and disciple of Corelli, who went to London in 1714 where he could make a comfortable living as a free lance composer and violinist. The program opens with the last concerto of his opus 1, which is a transcription of Corelli's opus 5 violin sonatas, the very well known variations on the old tune " La Follia", madness. The remainder of the program is the six concerti grossi of his opus 3, published in 1732. The concertino is 2 violins, viola and cello, accompanied by/opposed by 3 first and 3 second violins, viola, cello, bass, harpsichord and/or chamber organ. These are tuneful and cheerful, and beautifully played, in fact the six excellent concerti, particularly no 1, are to me, highlights of the baroque.
The third CD contains some of the works of Petro Antonio Locatelli, 1685-1768. In his early years he was chiefly known as a great violinist, in his later years, after he moved to Amsterdam, he concentrated on composition. The works on this CD are four of the twelve concerti grossi of his opus 1, published in 1721 but written some years earlier, a sinfonia 'for the funeral of his lady which took place in Rome', and a concerto from opus 7, 'Ariadne's Lament'. The forces used to play this music are the same as those for Geminiani above. I find the choice of the funeral and the lament rather puzzling; they are little known and seldom recorded. There is a lot of Locatelli from which to choose, and I would have preferred a concerto from his famous opus 3, 'L'Arte del Violino'.
Giuseppe Tartini, 1692-1770, is the composer on our next disc, he was known as a virtuoso performer, a great techer and as a prolific composer for the violin, with 135 violin concertos and about 200 violin sonatas to his name. Like Geminiani and Locatelli he was a great admirer of Corelli, although he quickly adopted the Vivaldi three movement model. In my opinion his early works sound more Vivaldian than Corellian, but as he matured he found a voice that was very much his own. On this CD we have 5 sonatas for violin and basso continuo, here cello, harpsicord and theorbo, two from opus 1, there is doubt as to when they were written, possibly 1728, one from opus 2, published in 1743, but probably written much earlier, and two named sonatas, probably later works. The late works, concertos and sonatas, belong in the very late Baroque; they could be referred as Classical. These sonatas are very well played by Fabio and friends.
The last of the 5 CDs takes us well into the Classical period with the cello quintets of Luigi Boccherini, 1743-1805. The cello quintet (2 violins, viola and 2 cellos) was Boccherini's creation, and he wrote 113 of them when employed in the court at Madrid, and beautiful music it is, stately, melodic and quietly joyful. Europa Galante, now a cello quintet, plays them very well too, but somehow not quite as well as more recent recordings, e.g. those of the Vanbrugh quartet with the extra cello played by Richard Lester. I noticed that Biondi was a very young man when this was recorded, 1992, busy establishing himself as a master of the Italian Baroque, and that his later recording of Boccherini cello quintets has been highly praised.
In summary this bargain re-release of Fabio Biondi's earlier recordings on Opus 111 is wonderful value for money and well worth 5 stars. It would be great to see more of these early CDs re-released, as they are now hard to come by