Locatelli: Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (CD review)

Elizabeth Wallfisch and Nicholas Kraemer, The Raglan Baroque Players. Hyperion Dyad CDD22066 (2-disc set).

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:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa