Alfredo Campoli, an Italian transplanted across the Alps, flourished in his new British surroundings, adapting to life as a hotel musician and broadcaster of light music when economic necessities dictated that he do so. His recordings of Paganini, Bruch, and Mendelssohn reveal him combining suave bel canto with virtuoso élan in a highly individual synthesis. On the other hand, his recordings of the frequently played half dozen of Handel’s Sonatas (probably only two of them now—in A and D—considered genuine) gave him little scope for the display of such fireworks; but the characteristic singing quality of his tone emerges nonetheless (the opening of the F-Major Sonata and the Sonata taken as “op. 1/14” feature a ravishingly honeyedRead more sound that could vie with Elman’s). This liquid cantilena drapes itself serenely over George Malcolm’s sturdy but nonetheless sprightly and fanciful harpsichord part. Their synergy might seem to be stuck in the 1950s (the set having been recorded in July 1952); but subsequent explorations of period instrumentalists like Rachel Barton Pine (with Baroque bow and modern violin, on Cedille CDR90000 032) and the redoubtable Andrew Manze (Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr, Harmonia Mundi France, HMU 907259) haven’t dulled the set’s interest—Handel himself wasn’t destined to be England’s only purveyor of Italian sunshine. Some of the portamentos Campoli employs, such as those in the D-Major Sonata’s opening movement, might not occur, even as an inchoate idea, to today’s violinists, steeped as they’ve been in an ascetic performance tradition that began to flourish even before the onrush of scholarly (or otherwise) period practice. But any style might proudly claim his energy in the ensuing Allegro (and the final one, too)—as well as the nuanced subtlety of his tone. Unlike Elman, with whom he might be grouped by reason of his tonal palette, he wasn’t always able to endow slower tempos with interest (his performances of some of Sarasate’s Spanish Dances seemed heavy-handed); but he doesn’t take Handel at tempos that risk stasis (except perhaps in the E-Major Sonata, which bears Heifetz’s indelible impression). His bow remains generally on the string except for one rather witty gesture in the Allegro of the aforementioned Sonata, op. 1/14; and his unapologetic smooth détaché (he had been born too early to apologize) sets him apart from period performers and their more crisply articulated variety. The original engineers seem to have captured a great deal of Campoli’s subtlety and Malcolm’s tonal zest; Testament has preserved that original fidelity.
Only the Chaconne from an originally entire Bach Partita No. 2 appears in this collection; recorded in June 1948, it seems to reveal its age more clearly both in recorded sound and in performance style than do its discmates (however much might have been gained in recorded fidelity during the four years between sessions, nevertheless, a listener can enjoy hearing his violin ring clearly at the end of the Chaconne’s phrases). Campoli’s signature singing tone still almost carries the day, but he’s burdened with tempos, at least at the outset (he does play some of the later running figuration rapid-fire) and strenuous articulation (especially in chords) that occasionally convert this large dance form into an invitation to a seat on the sidelines.
For his nearly timeless breadth in Handel’s sonatas (in a revelatory partnership with George Malcolm) and, though less urgently, for the documentary value of his performance of the Chaconne, Testament’s collection of Campoli can be strongly recommended, especially at a time when too little of this individual artist’s work can readily be obtained.