Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players
Idiomatic and well-recorded performances of some fine concertos.
Two English comments from the 1770s throw interesting light on Albinoni’s reputation in the years after his death. Sir Charles Burney, in his
General History of Music (1776-89) writes of “Tomaso Albinoni, a composer well known in England about forty or fifty years ago, by some light and easy concertos for violins, but better known at Venice by thirty-three dramas which he set to music”; Sir John Hawkins, writing in his
General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776) tells us that Albinoni’s works “were sundry times printed,
and at length become so familiar in England, that many of the common fiddlers [sic] were able to play them”. Both bear witness to the familiarity of Albinoni’s instrumental music; both perhaps contain implications that it was perhaps over-familiar and was by then decidedly dated; both view it as offering fewer challenges to the player than the music of some of his contemporaries - Burney calls Albinoni’s music “light and easy” and Hawkins (with a hint of snobbery) declares “that many of the common fiddlers” were able to play it.
Certainly Albinoni’s concertos didn’t require virtuoso instrumentalists and were much explored by amateur musicians of a high standard. The Op. 10 concertos formed the last of Albinoni’s series of published collections of
concerti a cinque. They have qualities of elegance and clarity, the work of an experienced and sophisticated composer who doesn’t appear to be attempting anything startlingly new, but who has established a musical mode in which he is entirely comfortable and which he can gently expand and extend as occasion dictates. There is often a sense of real chamber music collegiality in these concertos, in which the soloists are not excessively foregrounded and in which their roles are often as much decorative as expressive. For all that, Albinoni has a real capacity for the invention of attractive melodies - as, for example, in the central slow movement of Concerto No. 5 - and much of his writing in these concertos has an attractive calmness and poise.
As my earlier quotation from Burney reminds us, Albinoni had a substantial and lasting fame in Italy as an operatic composer. We know the titles of over fifty of his operas, but by far the greater part of this output is now lost. But it isn’t, I think, fanciful to hear in these concertos echoes of a man of great theatrical experience. In Concerto No. 7, for example, there is much in the phrasing that reminds one of contemporary operatic idiom.
Albinoni often seems a composer relatively uninfluenced by many of his contemporaries, a man who established his own ‘language’ quite early and then went on refining it. While that may largely be true, this final set of concertos suggests that he was able to listen and learn too. As Claudio Toscani suggests in his excellent booklet notes, there are more than a few “typically
gallant inflections” and, in Concerto No. 11 there are musical reminders that the whole collection is dedicated to Don Luca Fernando Patiño, Marquis of Castelan, as Albinoni alludes to the music of the guitar and even to flamenco-like rhythms.
Throughout Harmonices Mundi, directed by Claudio Astronio, play with idiomatic vivacity, while respecting the elegant poise of so much of the music. The recorded sound is excellent, and the disc puts a very eloquent case for Albinoni’s final collection of concertos.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
Concerti a Cinque,
Claudio Astronio (hpd, cond); Harmonices Mundi (period instruments)
ARTS 47747-8 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 72:12)
It’s tough being famous for a piece you never wrote. Fortunately that stigma of undeserved fame has faded as more Albinoni discs enter the catalog and Baroque music lovers recognize him as a critically important composer. By the time this set of concertos was published around 1736, the composer was a European sensation, a remarkable historical observation considering the oblivion to which he was consigned not long after his passing. The works featured here make the reason for his popularity obvious. Most notably he displays a knack for spinning melodies that have an instant appeal, yet maintain a level of difficulty that lies within the grasp of amateur musicians. We tend to thank Vivaldi for the standardization of the three-movement concerto form, but in fact it was the spread of Albinoni’s works that had the most pervasive effect. There is just one other recording of op. 10 in print (I Solisti Veneti), a two-disc set containing all 12.
Claudio Astronio and Harmonices Mundi have a few fine recordings to their credit, and this new one with eight concertos from the set is a welcome addition to the discography. Each work is rendered in exacting detail, with brisk pacing in fast movements and sensibly moderate tempos in middle movements.
The concertos don’t neatly fit into any of the forms we take for granted today, retaining elements of the concerto grosso, solo concerto, and trio sonata. Most of them reject the dominant solo passages one expects from a concerto, although the relative predominance of such passages varies considerably. An exception to this is No. 8, which is cast in a form reminiscent of Vivaldi, with ample room for display by the solo violinist. Elsewhere the solo passages serve more as decoration than fully realized solo exhibitions. There isn’t a weak work in the bunch, but No. 9 in C Major is one of my favorites, and serves as a fine example of the composer’s tidy craftsmanship and lyrical prowess.
In a disc of concertos I would normally single out the soloists for comment, especially when they are as uniformly fine as in this recording. Oddly enough, they are not listed in the notes, and even Claudio Astronio’s role as keyboardist can only be assumed from his considerable history in that role, given that he is listed only as conductor (or director) in the notes. The unnamed violinist in the first movement of the G-Minor concerto performs with infectious verve and uncanny agility.
Everything else about the production values is first-rate, and the recorded sound is superb. The solo instruments are only slightly more forward than the others, a reasonable facsimile of live concert balance in an intimate setting. There are times when I would appreciate a bit more flexibility of pacing, especially in the slow movements. This uniformity of tempo is more than offset by exquisitely carved dynamic profiles within melodic phrases. A must for Baroque music lovers.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
Works on This Recording
Concerti (12) à 5 for Strings, Op. 10 by Tomaso Albinoni
Harmonices Mundi String Ensemble
Written: ?1735-36; Venice, Italy
Date of Recording: 09/2004
Venue: Centro Convegni Grand Hotel Dobbiaco
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