The Italian Job (CD review)

Music of the Italian baroque. Gail Hennessy and Rachel Chaplin, solo oboes; Peter Whelan, solo bassoon; Adrian Chandler, La Serenissima. Avie AV2371.

If the idea of listening to well-recorded Italian music of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Baroque period played on period instruments in historically informed performances appeals to you, you might enjoy this album, The Italian Job. Conductor Adrian Chandler and his British early-music ensemble La Serenissima (the "serene city" of Venice) play a variety of tunes from some of Italy's top composers of the day: the somewhat forgotten Caldara and more-famous Corelli, Tartini, Vivaldi, Albinoni, and Torelli.

What's more, if you're worried that all Baroque music sounds pretty much alike, you're in for a treat. Chandler has chosen a program that varies the selections considerably, and the music represents four Italian cities known for their distinctive musical styles: Venice, Bologna, Padua, and Rome. The disc provides over seventy-six minutes of well-played music. You can hardly go wrong.

First up is the Sinfonia in C by Antonio Caldara (c. 1671-1736). It is rather extravagant in its use of trumpets, bassoons, oboes, solo violin, and strings, with La Serenissima and company giving it a rousingly good turn. The ensemble plays comfortably, and Chandler never leads them on any helter-skelter barnstorming. That is, the tempos are lively but never rushed. There is also a prominent role for timpani that is most entertaining.

Next is the Sinfonia to S. Beatrice d'Este in D minor by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). This is largely a string work placed at the end of a much-longer oratorio (1689) by Giovanni Lulier. Supposedly, performances of the Corelli piece alone came later. Written in five movements, it begins very seriously and hardly lets up. There is a central Adagio, too, that while also solemn sounds quite lovely. I like the way Chandler keeps everything in an appropriately somber vein yet with enough energy and enthusiasm as to never let the music sound depressing.

Adrian Chandler
After that comes the Concerto in E by Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770). Apparently, Tartini much admired Corelli and wrote several works that use variations of the older man's music. Tartini's violin compositions, however, seem more complex than Corelli's, this one featuring some charming solo violin work, Chandler and company playing it with a consummate grace.

Then, there's the tiny Concerto Alla rustica in G and the longer Concerto in C by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), proving he was good for a lot more than The Four Seasons. However, fans of Vivaldi will probably agree there is no mistaking Vivaldi's work for anybody else's. La Serenissima perform both works with an animated vigor, and the music highlights some delightful bassoon playing.

Following the Vivaldi concerto comes the Concerto in F by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751). Despite his writing some fifty operas, listeners today probably think of Albinoni mainly for his instrumental music. He wrote this one for two oboes, strings, and continuo, and it includes a particularly affecting Adagio.

The program ends with the Sinfonia in C by Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709). Like the opening Caldara piece, Torelli's work contains a multitude of instruments, scored elaborately for four trumpets, trombone, timpani, two oboes, two bassoons, two violins, two cellos, strings, and continuo. The timpani again make a statement. La Serenissima perform the piece in a grand and stately manner, bringing the album to a splendid conclusion.

Simon Fox-Gal produced, engineered, and edited the album, recorded at St. John's Smith Square, London, England in August 2016. The sound has a nice, ambient bloom to it, making the relatively small number of players appear bigger and the whole sonic range realistic. There is also a lifelike depth of field to the music, and good clarity and detail without any accompanying brightness or forwardness. It makes for a pleasant listening experience.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

Mission Statement

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