Italian Concertos & Sonatas / Lucia Swarts
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ITALIAN CONCERTOS AND SONATAS • Stephen Stubbs, cond; Lucia Swarts (vc); Teatro Lirico (period instruments) • CHALLENGE 72516 (3 CDs: 181:10)
Works by BOCCHERINI, JACCHINI, LEO, PLATTI, PORPORA, VIVALDI
This appears to be the third time around for the works on this disc, having been recorded back in 1997–99, and released individually by Challenge Classics then and once more in 2004–2007. This time, though, all of the works are available on a three-disc set, a sort of compendium, even though the programming becomes a bit more generic than one might expect. Lucia Swarts, a protégée of famed cellist Anner Bylsma, follows her mentor closely in style, with dexterous rapid passages and a sonorous, soaring, lyrical line as appropriate. Brian Robins reviewed the first disc, the Italian concertos, back in 2003, and the others have generally received excellent reviews for her performance in several online venues, so there is little to add here, save for my own immediate reactions.
First, Challenge Classics made no effort in the booklet notes to unify the release. All three of the previous discs’ notes are given verbatim side by side, and there is no overarching continuity or explaining just what “Italian concertos and sonatas” means in this context. On the other hand, despite the incongruity of the works, each has its own special purpose. The first disc is a compendium of concertos from about 1700 to 1730, an excellent means of demonstrating how this instrument came to prominence as a solo during this period. The first Platti concerto in C Major is more of a concerto grosso, with the solo instrument playing in the episodes of the ritornello, emerging as a textural contrast. The Leo concerto, on the other hand, has some extremely difficult passagework in the two fast movements, all of which foreshadow the more virtuosic lines of composer-cellists like Boccherini later in the century. Each of these varies between three and four movements, as one might expect of the late Baroque period, but there is ironically more of a hint of the emerging galant in the second Platti and the Leo, both of which straddle the stylistic periods. Here, the Teatro Lirico period-instrument orchestra provides a good background, with a fine sense of nuanced style and an excellent ensemble.
For the two sonata discs, the term “worlds apart” can distinguish them. Vivaldi writes four-movement works that are interesting but not especially unique. To be sure, he writes long lyrical lines and uses a fair amount of rhythmic syncopation. But it is Vivaldi, and he is deliberately writing apparently for well-trained but non-virtuoso musicians. There is of course no evidence that these were composed for the Ospedale della Pietà, where he worked for many years, but the style may be telling. For the Boccherini, however, we enter a time where the instrument’s potential had been released, thanks to that composer’s technical prowess, including the extensive use of the thumb position. The four sonatas are tours de force , often requiring extreme ranges and double- or triple-stop passages. I am particularly impressed by the first movement of the Sonata No. 2 in C Major, with figuration that really makes the performer sweat. All of these Swarts performs with an ease that is exceptional. One final word about the continuo on these two discs. In the Vivaldi, she expands the size, which I find gives a nice contrasting resonance to the character of the individual movements, while in the Boccherini she has chosen to have it performed by a continuo cello, ably played by Richte van der Meer, and a plucked instrument, varying between guitar in the fast movements and theorbo in the slow. I am not convinced by the musicological arguments for this arrangement, but from a musical standpoint, the results are eminently satisfactory. Indeed, for Boccherini, who spent so much time in Spain, there is more than a nice echo of Iberia in the opening Allegro militaire of the third sonata, with its marchlike rhythms for which the guitar is a perfect accompaniment. If you don’t already own these individually, this set is a good way to incorporate some great pieces from the 18th century into your collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Catalog Number: CC72516
Composer: Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Benedetto Platti, Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, Leonardo Leo, Luigi Boccherini, Nicolo Porpora
Conductor: Stephen Stubbs
Orchestra/Ensemble: Teatro Lirico
Performer: Lucia Swarts, Richte Van der Meer, Siebe Henstra, Stephen Stubbs