Notes and Editorial Reviews
Marriner and the ASMF give the impression of having sought, and found, the music's special vein of nobility and spaciousness, and its exalted poetic nature.
A reminder about the background of these magnificent concertos, whose mystery was cleared up two years ago by the Dutch scholar Albert Dunning, might be in order. They were published anonymously in the eighteenth century, with a dedication to Count Bentinck by Carlo Bacciccia Ricciotti, which says they were the work of "an illustrious hand." Those familiar with the period have always suspected that the authorship of a nobleman was implied, but various composers have been nominated, on circumstantial or stylistic grounds, or sometimes on no grounds at
all--certainly this last applies to the best-known attribution, to Pergolesi (on the strength of a manuscript note on a late copy in Washington). Others nominated include Handel, J. A. Birkenstock, Fortunato Chelleri, Willem de Fesch and Ricciotti himself. Dr. Dunning has solved the problem in the best possible way, by finding the autograph, which is the work of Unico Wilhelm, Count van Wassenaer. Here and there a clumsy progression betrays the hand of an amateur contrapuntist, but set against the originality, the textural richness and the nobility of diction of these fine works it scarcely matters... Michael Talbot...rightly points out that they belong not in the Vivaldian, north Italian tradition but in a Roman and southern one of four-movement works with fuller textures and fugal writing--there are several formal fugues, and contrapuntal thinking permeates the music. The style is conservative for the date, as one usually finds with an amateur composer (the concertos belong to the years 1725-40).
I hope someone will record them before long on authentic instruments. For these sumptuous textures and expressive lines and harmonies seem to invite vibrato-laden playing and strong emotional feeling--and by goodness they receive them from Neville Marriner's superb group, who play them as warmly and tenderly as they would
Siegfried Idyll. The result is in its way marvellous, a
tour de force of supple, expressive and euphonious string playing; but I do not think it very closely corresponds to what the composer is likely to have intended... Yet the ASMF do seem to me to make much more of the particular character of these works. I Musici approach them just as they would Vivaldi or Albinoni or anyone else; the ASMF however give the impression of having sought, and found, the music's special vein of nobility and spaciousness, and its exalted poetic nature. This is reflected in their softer, warmer textures, their perhaps more careful selection of the tempo of each movement, their readiness not simply to play the music through at face value but to think a little deeper about its character. Listen for example to the richness of feeling in the
Largo affettuoso of the second G major, or the management of the dynamics in those high repeated triplets in the finale of the F minor--I Musici make it a big climax, but the ASMF give it an altogether subtler shape and much more point, though they do take it very fast... Although this isn't really quite how I want to hear these concertos--I am curious to discover how a closer approximation to Wassenaer's intended sound would affect their expressive nature--it would take an austerer spirit than mine not to take delight in what is offered here.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [3/1983]
Works on This Recording
Concerti armonici (6) by Unico Graf Van Wassenaer
Sir Neville Marriner
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Written: by 1740; Netherlands
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