Locatelli: Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (CD review)
The problem these days with most composers of the Baroque period (roughly from 1600-1750) is that the bulk of them pale in the shadow of a popular few like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi in particular, with Albinoni, Corelli, Monteverdi, Purcell, Pachelbel, Rameau, Scarlatti, Telemann, and occasional others bringing up the rear. In fact, by the late eighteenth century Baroque composers in general had fallen out of favor with the public, and it would not be until well into the twentieth century that musicians and musical scholars rediscovered many of them.
So, where does that leave the Italian Baroque composer and violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)? I'd say "rediscovered," thanks to people like Maestro Nicholas Kraemer and his Raglan Baroque Players on the present recording. (The Raglan Players got their name from a former patron, Fitzroy Somerset, the 5th Lord Raglan, and the Players made several recordings, mainly for Hyperion, during a twenty-odd-year partnership during the Seventies, Eighties, and early Nineties.) The ensemble perform with a great deal of finesse yet maintain a lively style, with Mr. Kraemer conducting from harpsichord and organ and Elizabeth Wallfisch doing the lead violin parts.
Anyway, about Locatelli: Scholars don't know a lot about him, except that he began studying in Rome around 1711, where he debuted as a composer, publishing the Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 in 1721. They were probably among his first published works, and they continue to remain among his most popular. The Op. 1 Concerti appear to owe much to Arcangelo Corelli, already an established composer and violinist when Locatelli was just beginning his career. Concerto No. 8, for instance, ending with the Christmas Pastorale, seems especially reminiscent of Corelli's famous work.
The trouble with all this is minor at best: mainly, a little goes a long way. With twelve Concerto Grossi in this two-disc set, each with between three and seven brief movements, listened to all at once they can begin to take on a sameness that may become wearying. But that's what CD players are for; you can program favorite pieces for playback during a single listening session. At least, once you've decided what your favorites are. (For a single-disc, best-of collection of Op. 1 Concerto Grossi, you might consider Gottfried von der Goltz and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi.)
As for Mr. Kraemer, Ms. Wallfisch, and the Raglan band, they do their best to keep things moving along at a brisk yet elegant pace. However, one might feel that the ensemble's historically informed tempos and phrasing can at times rob the music of some of its more lyrical qualities. In other words, it isn't always as graceful as it could be.
I liked the first Concerto Grosso because it sets the tone for the rest of the pieces in the set. The tempos remain well judged throughout, energetic without being tiring. Some of the slow movements could perhaps have been a tad slower and used a bit more sentiment, but it is of no serious significance. Ms. Wallfisch's playing is sprightly and alert, and the ensemble project a radiant and pleasingly stylish refinement.
The second concerto grosso seems more sedate than the first one, but that's probably what Locatelli wanted. No complaints here. No. 3 shows a Vivaldi influence, much to its advantage. It is among my favorites of the bunch. No. 4 appears more varied than most of the others and shows more invention than one might expect.
And so it goes, with No. 8 a highlight of the set, thanks largely to that influence of Corelli, who was undoubtedly Locatelli's inspiration. But for that matter, all the concerti grossi on the album are entertaining. If you enjoy Baroque music, the performances and sound shouldn't disappoint.
Engineer Antony Howell and producer Martin Compton recorded the music in June and September 1994, and Hyperion rereleased the set in 2014 as part of their Dyad series, offering two discs for the price of one. The sound is nicely resonant without clouding much detail, the smallish numbers of players involved in each concerto helping with the definition as well. There's a modestly wide stereo spread, a fair sense of air around the instruments, and a smooth, warm glow around everything. It's a good, natural sound, pleasing to the ear and reasonably realistic to the occasion.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.