Notes and Editorial Reviews
This set brings together recordings of Italian music by Chiara Banchini and Amandine Beyer. It is symbolic of a filiation between the two artists, Amandine Beyer having succeeded Chiara Banchini as professor of Baroque violin at the Schola Cantorum in Basle, Switzerland. The release follows Amandine Beyer’s recording of Bach’s Sonatas for solo violin as well as Chiara Banchini’s recording of his Sonatas for violin and keyboard, both of which received a Diapason d’Or. The set includes the re-release of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Amandine Beyer.
Vivaldi: Four Seasons, Concertos
Gli Incogniti’s collection for Zig-Zag includes not only Vivaldi’s blockbuster but also three obscure concertos. The booklet identifies one of the two “world premieres” (the first two items on the program), in fact—the Concerto in G minor, RV 578a—as an earlier version (from 1705-1710) of the Concerto, op. 3/2—with more highly developed dialogue in the third (slow) movement and a different finale—discovered only days before the recording sessions. Beyer and the ensemble play the first and third movements of that work, Adagio e spiccato and Largo e spiccato, respectively, with a crispness that would have allowed the hall’s natural reverberation to fill in the gaps. In the fast (second and fourth) movements, the tutti passages proceed at bracing tempos that launch the soloists on flights of energetic violinistic figuration. Another premiere, of the Concerto, RV 372, “Per Signora Chiara,” serves as an example not only of the kind of work Vivaldi composed for specific violinistic talents at the Pietà, but also demonstrates a personality all its own. Beyer and the ensemble maintain light and transparent textures, piquantly and wittily tracing the first movement’s filigree, plaintively though teasingly singing the slow movement, and serving up the last movement’s opening thematic material with impudent brilliance.
Amandine Beyer’s notes to
(musicologist Olivier Fourés, who discovered or edited the three concertos that fill out the program, provided notes on them) mention the great number of diverse recordings that have preceded hers. But however great the ensemble’s range may be, there’s still room for her lambent violin solos, played against a background of sharp articulation and percussive continuo. And the viola’s bark in the second movement of “Summer,” which Beyer mentions, provides an uncannily realistic foil for her richly ornamented solo. The finale is extraordinarily dance-like—while some of the violinist’s ideas may have come from the Manchester edition, which she consulted, the energy remains her own. The brisk peasant dance and hunt of “Autumn” could make a listener’s heart pound, though they never seem rushed; Beyer’s inquiries into the best way of depicting the sleeping drunkard in that concerto’s slow movement seem to have borne correspondingly realistic fruit. The same is true, again, of the rumbling pitter-patter raindrop accompaniment in the slow movement of “Winter,” still another effect that Beyer mentions having carefully calibrated. While the set’s graphic representations hold the listener’s attention (with occasional novel harmonies, some perhaps chosen from among the Manchester edition’s alternatives), they never rise to the threshold of aesthetic pain. Some of the most striking of the versions of
, in fact, like those by Europa Galante, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, or Il Giardino Armonico, inevitably invite the question as to whether the mild electric shocks they administer will continue to provide pleasure after repeated hearings. My guess is that these readings don’t make a one-off listening experience, and my recommendation is therefore all the stronger.
The less familiar Concerto, RV 390, layers lyrical elements over bustling accompaniments in the first movement and a shyly chaste, delicate melody over pizzicato in the second. The ensemble’s focus may soften, but both Beyer and Gli Incogniti remain identifiable in this less typical concerto.
The engineers have generally placed the soloist in the middle of the ensemble’s sonic web, itself captured at some distance and with a modicum of reverberation. The ensemble’s sound matches Beyer’s in its buoyancy, its starchy rhythmic vigor never trumping tonal sweetness. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Geminiani: Concerti Grossi
The first six sonatas, or the sonate da chiesa as they are commonly referred to, were published in Geminiani’s arrangements in 1726 and met with immediate success. Not only were the sonorities amplified by the instrumental expansion, but Corelli’s difficult-to-play sonatas were now within reach of violinists with more modest abilities. The skill with which Geminiani embellished Corelli’s music while remaining true to Corelli is immediately evident when Corelli and Geminiani are played back-to-back. It is roughly the aural equivalent of a black and white photo now viewed in color. Geminiani’s arrangements of the second set of six sonatas, the sonate da camera, were soon completed but did not meet with the same immediate popularity. The last sonata/concerto, No. 12 in D Minor, the Follia, is structurally different from the others. It is a theme with 25 variations and has taken on a life of its own separate from the other 11 concertos.
For people familiar with the works in their sonata form, Corelli’s composition remains evident and Geminiani’s contribution is a brilliant embellishment. For the past few years, a recording of Geminiani’s complete op. 5 by Andrew Manze with the Academy of Ancient Music on Hyperion has garnered high praise, not only in Fanfare, but other publications as well. This new recording with Chiara Banchini and a group known as Ensemble 415 (also a period-instrument group) on the Zig Zag label is a formidable competitor. Ms. Banchini expresses her love for Corelli’s sonatas in the liner notes; she views these Geminiani inflations as another way of experiencing Corelli. Ms. Banchini’s love for the material is evident throughout. She caresses the music; she fills her playing with passion. Both Banchini and Manze base their ornamentations on Geminiani’s style as espoused in Geminiani’s volume The Art of Playing on the Violin, one of several musical treatises Geminiani penned in his later years. The biggest difference I noticed between these recordings was the sound. Hyperion’s sound is warmer and mellower; the Zig Zag recording has more immediacy and presence. As for the performances, individual tastes may vary and prefer one to the other, but I liked both. With two CD players plugged into the same receiver, I was able to play the recordings simultaneously, switching between them at will. Some parts were nearly identical; in some details, one performance was more muscular; in other details, one was more suave; all in all, I found both performances very satisfying.
-- David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Vivaldi: Concertos for 4 Violins
This disc of Vivaldi concertos celebrates ten years of the French label Zig-Zag Territoires. The fulsome paean contained in the booklet, sometimes flowery in its prose, sometimes fanciful in its content – ‘Long may our CDs continue to stir this life force within you!’ etc. – may not win new friends, but the playing of Ensemble 415 certainly should. Director and founder of the group, Chiara Banchini has chosen the four Concertos for four violins from Vivaldi’s first and most varied printed sets, L’estro armonico (1711), as well as two further works that, along with the greater number of his concertos remained unpublished during Vivaldi’s lifetime, a Concerto in F major for three violins (RV 551) and in B flat for four (RV 553). For this programme Banchini fields a group of 13 musicians though the listed personnel makes no reference to the often distinctly audible plucked string player(s). What these performances have in greater measure than some rival versions of L’estro armonico are a warmth of timbre – quite distinct from that of L’Arte dell’Arco (Chandos) for instance – and a spirit of intimate music-making. Notwithstanding some curiously specious remarks about Vivaldi’s music in her printed conversation with Olivier Fourés, Banchini achieves performances which are polished, clearly argued and meticulously prepared. She and her talented musicians, many of whom are her former pupils, have no difficulty in conveying both the virtuosity and the abundant fantasy and lyricism embodied in the music. Nowhere, perhaps, is the latter quality more in evidence than in their tastefully ornamented playing of the limpid andante of the Triple Violin Concerto, RV 551. A rewarding disc; perhaps the remaining eight concertos of L’estro armonico will follow. Let’s hope so.
-- Nicholas Anderson, BBC Music Magazine