Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sinfonie: No. 4 in e; No. 8 in G; No. 9 in g; No. 12 in c,
Oboe Concerto in d,
Recorder Concerto in c,
Concerto grosso in e,
Francis Colpron (rcr, cond); Matthew Jennejohn (ob); Les Boréades de Montréal (period
ATMA 2606 (69:05)
Here is a newly recorded collection of Italian Baroque sinfonie and concertos featuring the brilliant recorder playing of Francis Colpron and, in one of the works, the superb playing of oboist Matthew Jennejohn, who performs the well-known Albinoni concerto on a Baroque oboe that, to these ears, sounds no different from a modern instrument. That’s testament either to how far along the oboe already was in its development compared to other instruments of the time or to how well Jennejohn has mastered it, or both.
Other than the fact that four of the seven works on the disc—the four Scarlatti sinfonie—include a recorder in the ensemble, and that one work—Vivaldi’s RV 441—features the recorder in a solo concerto, I find an interesting, if perhaps unintended, rationale behind this program. Chronologically, as well as musically, it splits in half, presenting examples from both the middle and late Italian Baroque periods, and illustrating how the concerto grosso principle evolved into the solo concerto.
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725) and Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709), along with Corelli (1653–1713) and Alessandro Stradella (1639–82)—the latter two not represented here—were among the major middle Baroque contributors to the concerto grosso. Indeed, it was they who invented and then polished the form. The four Scarlatti sinfonie on this disc come from a set of 12 such works somewhat ambiguously titled
Sinfonie di Concerto grosso
(literally, “symphonies with big orchestra”). Published in London, but not until 1740, long after Scarlatti’s death, these works were written toward the end of the composer’s life, probably around 1720 or so, and as such are not much later than Corelli’s 12 concerti grossi, op. 6. Scarlatti’s sinfonie follow closely the Corelli model in number and order of movements, most proceeding according to a slow-fast-slow-fast layout. The No. 9 in G Minor, however, deviates from this pattern in having six movements, beginning with a Vivace and ending with a Menuett. But this is encountered in more than one of Corelli’s op. 6 concertos as well. The concerto grosso seems not to have become as formally fixed or ossified, one might say, as the solo concerto with its three-movement, fast-slow-fast pattern, something that can be seen as late as Handel’s op.6 and the first of the
Mention of Handel and Bach is segue to the second half of this program, containing solo concertos by Vivaldi (1678–1741) and Albinoni (1671–1750), both of whom, along with Handel and Bach, bring up the rear guard of the Baroque. By this time, the concerto grosso had pretty much ceded dominion to the solo concerto. Handel’s and Bach’s contributions to the concerto grosso repertoire are really sort of an anomaly, a final hurrah, if you will, for a dying breed. Most of Vivaldi’s 12,063 concertos are of the solo variety, and Albinoni’s also tend to feature one or more solo instruments.
Here we have what in my opinion is the most beautiful of all Italian Baroque oboe concertos, Albinoni’s D Minor, the No. 2 from his set of 12
concerti à cinque
, op. 9. For me, the slow movement of this concerto embodies the entire essence of Italian cantilena and what is meant by
. Over a rocking, arpeggiated accompaniment in the strings, the oboe pours out incredibly long-arching phrases that seem almost too long for the human breath to sustain. I know it’s heretical, but sometimes I think that of the two, Albinoni and Vivaldi, Albinoni was the greater composer. Maybe it’s just that I hear in his music a more voluptuous or curvaceous lyrical impulse compared to Vivaldi’s more Spartan athleticism—two sides of the same coin, perhaps, one feminine, the other masculine. From what I’ve read about Albinoni, he was the beneficiary of no small fortune from his father’s paper merchant business. He dubbed himself “Dilettante Veneto” and pursued music for pleasure rather than profit. Some dilettante! He wrote something like 80 operas and a volume of instrumental and concerted orchestral works approaching Vivaldi’s in numbers.
Jennejohn’s playing of the concerto is exquisite, but I do have one small niggle. I think he goes just a bit overboard in adding his own embellishments to the line. The beauty of the solo part in the slow movement is the pure, unbroken pouring forth of the oboe’s plaintive tone, and too much embellishing has the effect of breaking the continuity. A performance I have, admittedly on modern instruments, with oboist Pierre Pierlot and Claudio Scimone leading I Solisti Veneti strikes me as ideal.
The concerto by which Vivaldi is represented on this CD, the C Minor, RV 441, is one of his earlier works about which it can be said with some certainty that it was written for recorder and not the transverse flute for which he wrote most, if not all, of his later flute concertos. As Vivaldi goes, it’s not one of his more memorable efforts. Francis Colpron’s playing of it, however, is considerably more animated and stylish than is a performance I have by Michael Copley with Thomas Füri leading the modern-instrument Camerata Bern on a Deutsche Grammophon recording.
Colpron founded Les Boréades in 1991, a Montréal period-instrument ensemble. At least as constituted on this recording, the group is composed of eight finely tuned players. If the essentially one-to-a-part sound is just a bit thin for my taste, it’s attributable to a lack of numbers, not to the playing of those present. Atma’s recording is also nicely balanced with a perspective that is distanced just right from the ensemble.
As I said above, there does seem to be a rationale of sorts for this particular collection of works, but most listeners, I think, will just enjoy it as a mixed sampler of Italian Baroque music. Serious collectors are apt to have recordings of the complete opus sets (the Vivaldi being a stand-alone exception) from which these individual works come.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Recorder in C minor, RV 441 by Antonio Vivaldi
Francis Colpron (Recorder)
Les Boréades Montreal
Written: Venice, Italy
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