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.
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: