Half a century ago, Giuseppe Tartini might have been the only composer of the Italian Baroque most classical music listeners could name. That was thanks to the so-called Devil's Trill, which appears as the final track on disc one of this two-disc set. Here one can experience the "trillo del Diavolo" in its proper place, as the final movement of a three-movement Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo, and within a larger slice of his output: this pairing of two previously released discs also includes a published set of violin sonatas from around the time of the Devil's Trill (around the early 1730s), and several later sonatas with a goodly degree of novelty on disc two. In a way, the rest of the music makes the Devil's Trill seem less remarkable.
The English, historical-instrument, Baroque ensemble La Serenissima (the term was a nickname for the city of Venice) has specialized in somewhat scholarly recordings that nevertheless retain considerable general appeal, and the group does it again with this release. The program offers some lesser-known composers, and some lesser-known pieces by famous composers like the tiny and fascinating Concerto alla rustica for two oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo, RV 151. What ties the program together formally is that it covers a range of Italian cities that were becoming cultural centers as they declined in political power: not only Venice (Vivaldi, Albinoni, Caldara), but also Padua (Tartini), Bologna (Torelli), and Rome (Corelli). There are several works by composers known only for one or two big hits, and these are especially rewarding. Sample the opening movement of Tartini's Violin Concerto E major, DS 51, with its unusual phrase construction and daringly chromatic cadenza passage: it has the exotic quality for which Tartini became famous, but it does not rely on sheer virtuosity. That work is played by leader Adrian Chandler himself, but he also chooses pieces for a large variety of other solo instruments: the Italian Baroque was about more than the violin. Each work on the album has something to recommend it, and collectively the performances may make up the best album of 2017 whose booklet includes footnotes.
At last, a disc of Tartini violin music that doesn't include the Devil's Trill sonata! (For some reason, that G minor work has been turning up a lot lately.) No, this is a group of concertos, and before the first has concluded you're wondering why (with all due respect) Vivaldi gets so much attention when music of this quality and inventiveness is around. One reason may be a question of quantity and historical misfortune: until recently dozens of Tartini's 200 known violin concertos were believed lost, but the four performed here were recently discovered "at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris."
While J.S. Bach’s Suites for solo cello are, by definition, closely identified with Mstislav Rostropovich as the supreme cellist of his time, the B flat concerto of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach represents a more unusual departure. It is programmed here with two concertos in D major by Italian composers of the elder Bach’s generation, Antonio Vivaldi and Giuseppe Tartini.
Tartini was born in Piran, a town on the peninsula of Istria, in the Republic of Venice (now in Slovenia) to Gianantonio - native of Florence - and Caterina Zangrando, a descendant of one of the oldest aristocratic Piranian families.
Violinist James Ehnes has firmly established himself as a master of the modern repertoire and to a lesser extent, the Romantic, so his album of Antonio Vivaldi's perennial violin concertos, The Four Seasons, Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata, and Jean-Marie Leclair's "Tambourin" Sonata is an unexpected detour into the Baroque. The fame and popularity of these pieces guarantees Ehnes an audience, and he, like everyone else, shouldn't be criticized for recording them, though his choice of the modern Sydney Symphony Orchestra for the Vivaldi, and Fritz Kreisler's arrangement of the Tartini for violin and piano, suggests that he isn't really trying to compete with most contemporary recordings, least of all the various period-style releases.