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Trio Sonatas (Locatelli Edition, volume 1)

Sonata in G, op. 5,1
Sonata in e minor, op. 5,2
Sonata in E, op. 5,3
Sonata in C, op. 5,4
Sonata in d minor, op. 5,5
Sonata in G, op. 5,6
Sonata in A, op. 8,7
Sonata in D, op. 8,8
Sonata in f minor, op. 8,9
Sonata in A, op. 8,10

Ensemble Violini Capricciosi
Dir: Igor Ruhadze

Brilliant Classics 94376 (2 CDs)

Pietro Antonio Locatelli was universally admired for his skills in playing the violin. He was arguably the greatest virtuoso of his time, and he himself certainly thought so. The story goes that after performing a dazzling solo he exclaimed: "Ah! What do you have to say about that?" However, if it comes down to style and taste, opinions were highly divided. The Dutch organist Jacob Wilhelm Lustig, while acknowledging Locatelli's ability to captivate his audience with his virtuosity, stated that his playing was "so brutal that sensitive ears found it unbearable".

This unease about Locatelli's style of playing may also have been the fruit of the changes in musical taste during the 1730s and beyond. There was a longing for a more 'natural' style, away from pyrotechnics for their own sake. It was the time when Nature was seen as the source of Truth, and the closer a man got to Nature, the closer he got to the Truth. The specimens of these ideals were Christoph Willibald von Gluck in opera and Giuseppe Tartini in the field of instrumental music, and particularly the playing of and composing for the violin. The trio sonatas which are the subject of this disc show that Locatelli was not unsensitive to this mentality. Here he shows his 'softer' side, as it were, and some elements of the galant idiom are clearly noticeable. At the same time we find various elements of a time gone by, such as fugues which were an integral part of the baroque trio sonata as modelled by Corelli. Locatelli was very much his own man, though, and that comes clearly to the fore in these trio sonatas.

The trio sonatas op. 5 were printed in 1736, and were scored for either transverse flutes or violins. That in itself explains that they are not overly virtuosic from the angle of violin technique. Obviously something like double-stopping was out of the question. However, the genre of the trio sonata in itself was not particularly suitable to virtuosity as it was mostly aimed at the growing amateur market. It is quite possible that this set of six trio sonatas was also composed for amateurs in the Low Countries, and particular in Amsterdam, where Locatelli lived since the early 1720s. His individuality comes to the fore, for instance, in the texture of these pieces. The first three sonatas are in four movements, just like the Corellian trio sonata, but with a different order of tempo indications. The first two are in a slow (largo) or moderate (andante) tempo, the last two in a fast tempo. The fourth and fifth sonatas are in three movements, in the order which would become fashionable in the mid-18th century: slow-fast-fast. The sixth sonata then has five movements.

The latter is the most 'baroque' in that it is entirely structured as a canon. The ensemble is split into two 'choirs', each with one violin and basso continuo. This example of strict counterpoint is quite unique in Locatelli's oeuvre. Some movements in this set include daring harmonies, for instance the closing vivace of the Sonata in C and the Pastorale which closes the Sonata in d minor. The latter is arguably the most 'modern' of the set, with the violins playing largely in parallel motion in the second movement (vivace).

The sonatas op. 8 further confirm Locatelli's independent mind. Printing a collection of ten sonatas was highly unusual: it was common practice to publish sets of six or twelve. Equally unusual is the inclusion of pieces of two genres: the first six sonatas are scored for violin and basso continuo, the remaining four are of the trio sonata genre. Among the latter the Sonata in A, op. 8,10 stands out as it is not scored for two violins as all the other trio sonatas but rather for violin and cello. This was probably the result of a commission from an amateur cellist. It is assumed that the sonatas in this set date from various stages in Locatelli's career; a commentator calls them "left-overs". The increasing demand for music from amateurs made it profitable to publish them. Technically they are more demanding than the sonatas from the op. 5. They are specifically scored for violins and no alternative scorings are suggested.

Like the sonatas op. 5 these four are a mixture of old-fashioned and modern elements. The first two are in five movements; both include a fugue. They also have a movement called cantabile, a description which would so frequently turn up in music of the mid-18th century, for instance in the oeuvre of Tartini. The last sonata, which is in three movements: slow-fast-fast, opens with a cantabile. The third sonata is most adhered to the Corellian trio sonata, with four movements, the second being a fugue.

In particular the sonatas 7 and 8 include strong contrasts, due to frequent dynamic markings and the indication sostenuto. Moreover, there are a number of fermatas and short pauses. The performers make the most of these indications which results in very gestural and dramatic interpretations. There is also plenty ornamentation. Technically these are immaculate performances, but what is more important is that the brilliance and the imagination of the composer is perfectly exposed.

This recording is the first volume of the Locatelli Edition which includes his complete oeuvre. Igor Ruhadze and his ensemble have made a promising start. I strongly recommend this set and look forward to the next volumes.

Johan van Veen, 29 July 2013

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