TARTINI: Violin Concertos (Ariadne Daskalakis/ Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl/ Ludwig Rink) (Naxos: 8.570222)
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Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
The Italian composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini, a leading musician and pedagogue of his time, was born at Pirano d'Istria in 1692 and died in Padua in 1770. His compositions bridge the baroque and classical stylistic periods; the wide spectrum of colours in his music and the 'top-heavy' instrumentation create a unique lightness. He wrote 135 violin concertos and they offer an endless assortment of musical ideas filled with dramatic emotion, expressive nuances and harmonic subtleties. His writing for violin demands technical dexterity and a flexible sound, with extremely well differentiated articulation. The virtuosity called for in his music is not so straightforward as with his contemporary Vivaldi; in Tartini's music the challenges, clearly written by an expert violinist, are less obvious yet no less demanding. Essential is the understanding of ornamentation and of the violin's ability to sing like the human voice. The scholar Minos Dounias confirmed that Tartini frequently set the themes of his slow movements to texts (often of the librettist Metastasio), which he included in the manuscripts. These texts were then coded in order to protect the discovery of their secular content. Tartini was not cultivated as a child prodigy. He was given some violin instruction during his clerical schooling at Pirano and Capodistria, but his parents intended him for the priesthood. Meanwhile, in his youth he was known as a formidable swordsman. Besides being a candidate for the priesthood he was also enrolled as a law student (in 1709); then he irritated his family and the church authorities in 1710 by marrying. This scandal caused him to flee to Assisi, where he further developed his musical interests. He was not reunited with his wife, Elisabetta Premazore, until 1715; the marriage lasted but remained childless. By 1720 Tartini had earned a great reputation as a violinist and in 1721 he became the Concertmaster of St Anthony's Basilica in Padua, a prestigious post he would officially hold for 44 years. The majority of his compositions were written for the violin, and they are led musically by the top voice. His creativity and output as a composer clearly went hand in hand with his violinistic prowess. The bulk of Tartini's violin concertos were written for his use at St Anthony's Basilica and also for his numerous concert tours. He travelled widely until 1727, partly to augment his income to support his relatives, but the travelling was exhausting, and he chose thereafter to remain always in Italy. He still performed extensively until about 1740, when he suffered an arm injury. By this time he was also a dedicated and renowned teacher. Around 1727 he founded his violin school in Padua, which would produce many fine violinists and earn him the nickname "Master of All Nations". He wrote several treatises on violin-playing and also on acoustic theory. Tartini's diversity of talents and especially the fact that he rose to musical greatness at a relatively mature age suggest a remarkable intellectual capacity and strength of personality. As Paul Brainard describes it, his letters "reveal a personality of great warmth, tenderness, extreme sensibility, and a fastidiousness and personal modesty that verge on the excessive."
The violin concertos included here all have a fast-slow-fast three-movement pattern. The dates of Tartini's compositions were seldom indicated, in accordance with eighteenth-century practice. The pieces vary in instrumentation, texture and effect. Particularly the first movements, all in quadruple metre, differ widely in character. The final movements are consistently light and dance-like, all in triple metre. Arguably the finest gems in these works are to be found in the slow movements, with magical settings of the solo violin akin to opera arias.
The Concerto in E major, D. 50, has a relaxed musical flair and is relatively polyphonic, with syncopated rhythms, falling chromatic lines and melodic triplets. The slow movement, in E minor, gives the solo violin a gorgeous aria setting, accompanied by the full orchestra and supported by chord progressions in a "bow-vibrato" ostinato of sixteenth-notes (semiquavers) creating waves of sound. The third movement is light and graceful, with relatively simple thematic material but unusual harmonic modulations.
The Concerto in A major, D. 96, is more symphonic in scope, especially in the first two movements, thanks to its polyphonic writing and dramatic harmonic modulations. It is festive and jubilant, and the cello joins the accompaniment of the solo sections. If Tartini's slow movements are akin to arias, here in the second movement a heroine decries her fate to the Gods; the tutti's rôle like that of the ancient Greek chorus. The final movement is joyful and humorous, with an unusual twelve-bar phrase.
The first movement of the Concerto in G major, D. 80, is more eclectic and wistful. Here, the solo passages are considerably lighter, accompanied only by the tutti violins. The solo part is distinguished by flourishing runs and declamatory chords. The slow movement is in the relative minor key of E this time, with an opening tutti followed by a hauntingly beautiful solo accompanied by violins only. In the third movement, too, the solo sections are accompanied only by violins, and thus the second violins assume sole responsibility for the bass line. This delicate instrumentation was clearly a preference of the composer and it creates an unmistakable, light sound colour. Unique to the third movement of the concerto is a Capriccio where the solo violin takes off alone, apparently improvising on the thematic material. This is then followed by a traditional cadenza where the performer is free to improvise further. This concerto is the only one included here where cadenza suggestions made by Tartini himself were available.
In the Concerto in B minor, D. 125, the dramatic first movement is scarcely weighed down by any bass lines at all. The lower strings provide colour and drama but they join only in the tutti. The solo violin part, meanwhile, is extremely virtuosic and original. The middle movement, here in D major, is the most intimate of all, with no tutti at all but rather a simple three-voice song, " Lascia ch'io dica addio " ("Let me say goodbye"). The third movement is graceful yet dramatic and virtuosic, with the same instrumentation as in the first movement. This concerto is especially compact and masterful.
The Concerto in D major, D. 28, has the most intermingling of solo and tutti. Whether or not the horn parts were original to the composition, they certainly enhance the triumphant character of the hunt-like opening motif and contribute to the symphonic fabric of the music. It was a normal practice of the period to rewrite pieces according to the instruments available for the occasion. A later, nineteenth-century score of this piece shows parts for trumpets and timpani as well. The slow movement is in D minor, and here the tutti violins not only share the thematic material with the solo violin but actually present the melody, which the solo part does not repeat but elaborates upon. Notable is the expressive use of chromaticism. The tutti violins also share significant thematic material in the third movement, where the horns return to enhance the festive close. The choice of instrumentation on this recording is deliberately varied in order to reflect these characteristics.