Friday 16 October 2015

Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima bring a Four Seasons to be reckoned with together with the very real attraction of the world premiere of two Concertos for violin in tromba marina

The violino in tromba marina is probably an instrument that is unknown to most people. It seems that it was intended to produce a sound not dissimilar to the tromba marina which was a single-stringed instrument that can be traced back as early as the 12th century and was commonly used in convent chapels as a substitute for brass instruments which the nuns felt it inappropriate to play. Its name, Marientrompete (Our Lady’s trumpet) may well be the explanation for its name.  

A new release from Avie Records features the world premiere recordings of two concertos for violin in tromba marina, strings & continuo by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) played by La Serenissima  directed by Adrian Chandler . These two concertos are coupled with Vivaldi’s better known La Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) and two concertos for bassoon, strings & continuo.

AV 2344

The surviving evidence tends to suggest that the violino in tromba marina was unique to the Ospedale della Pietà one of four foundling hospitals situated in Venice, all of which were famous for the musical performances given by their female musicians. It was, of course, at the Ospedale della Pietà that Vivaldi was, at various points in his career, the violin master. Indeed, with the exception of one work by Nicola Porpora, all the surviving music for this instrument was written by Vivaldi.

In order to reconstruct a violino in tromba marina from the little evidence available Adrian Chandler and his colleagues went back to Vivaldi’s scores to work out how they thought the instrument sounded and then worked backwards to find their solutions.  More information concerning this instrument can be found in the account books of the Pietà which record payments made for old violins to be fitted with tromba marina bridges and supplied with strings.

Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot provided the hypothesis that this instrument had only three strings, tuned g-d’-a’.  The three-string theory is supported by evidence found in the scores. There was needed a way of producing the trumpet-like rasp of the tromba marina on the violin. The first idea was to attach a metal plate onto the back of the bridge tied with gut but this was found to give inconsistent results and could sound simply like an open seam. The solution to this problem was to replace the metal plate with a small, metal pin through the hole in the bridge, onto the back of which were placed two small rings whose purpose was to vibrate against each other giving a convincing tromba marina effect.

The instrument played on this disc by Adrian Chandler was made by Johann Andreas Doerffel, Klingenthal, 1755 and converted to a violin in tromba marina by David Rattray, London, 2014.

Further information on the violino in tromba marina can be found in Adrian Chandler’s fascinating article in The Strad  to whom I am grateful for much of this information.

La Serenissima open their new recording with Vivaldi’s La Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). There is a crisp incisiveness to the opening of the Allegro of the
Concerto La Primavera (Spring) for violin, strings and continuo in E, RV 269 with a beautifully clear and vibrant underlying bass line and finely controlled dynamics. The clarity of this ensemble allows so many instrumental sounds to be revealed with often some really dynamic, fast and furious sounds. In the Largo the solo violin of Adrian Chandler brings a fine flowing line over a beautifully quietened orchestral layer with such a natural flow. There is a lithe, vibrant Allegro with some really quite beautiful, often powerful sonorities from this period band.  

The lightly textured opening of the Allegro non molto – Allegro of the Concerto L’Estate (Summer) for violin, strings and continuo in G minor, RV 315 is finely done before the soloist launches into a terrific allegro, bringing varied timbres and textures to his sound. There are some pretty impressive rich, strong textures from the ensemble. The Adagio – Presto is finely done with all the little changes of tempi, before leaping into a strong, vibrant Presto with great energy, creating a terrific sound from the string band. When Chandler enters his playing is so crisp, incisive and thoroughly musical.  

The Concerto L’Autunno (Autumn) for violin, strings and continuo in F, RV 293 opens with a lovely buoyant Allegro which Chandler carries forward as he weaves some very fine passages. There is a lovely Larghetto section to contrast before these players dig deep to produce terrific incisive playing to conclude. Rippling harpsichord chords and hushed strings open the beautiful Adagio molto with lovely mellow sonorities effectively bringing a haven of calm. A rhythmically sprung Allegro – Lento – Allegro sets a great pace, steady and decisive, with some terrific rhythmic punch.  

As the textures are added in the opening of the Allegro non molto of the Concerto L’Inverno (Winter) for violin, strings and continuo in F minor, RV. 297 this ensemble create a very fine sound. When soloist Adrian Chandler enters and the tempo picks up there are more fine sonorities and a terrific solo line full of terrific textures and precision. Chandler brings a lovely flowing line over a vibrant, finely textured string accompaniment in the Largo before winding a fine opening over a sustained string line in the Allegro - Lento – Allegro. There are some finely bounced bowing before the tempo picks up, bringing a very fine conclusion.

There are innumerable versions of this much played work available but for a thoroughly musical, very finely conceived version this can open one’s ears afresh.

The first of two bassoon concertos on this disc is the Concerto La Notte (The night) for bassoon, strings & continuo in B-Flat Major, RV. 501. The Largo - Andante molto opens slowly with some fine instrumental details before the bassoon of Peter Whelan  enters with a series of rising phrases. It slowly moves forward over a spry string accompaniment  before the orchestra takes off in the Presto: Fantasmi - Presto – Adagio the bassoon running forward with terrific agility from the soloist through varying tempi before the Adagio: Il Sonno (The sleep) where the bassoon brings a lovely melody, rich, sonorous and flowing; beautifully done. The concluding Allegro: Sorge l'Aurora opens quietly before quickly speeding, the bassoon merging with the orchestral texture before taking the lead and bringing more terrific articulation.  

We now come to the first of the two works for violin in tromba marina, the Concerto for violin in tromba marina, strings & continuo in D Major, RV. 221. Lively strings open the Allegro before the soloist Adrian Chandler enters bringing an incisiveness to the texture. The instrument does not have a particularly penetrating voice, more a light and incisive sound. The rather distinctive sound of the violin in tromba marina is heard more clearly in the Andante, a leisurely, flowing movement where Chandler provides a lovely melody over subdued strings revealing a rather special string quality. Incisive strings open the Allegro to which the soloist brings a lighter tone, providing some remarkably fine textures from this instrument.

Incisive staccato phrases from the strings and the bassoon of Peter Whelan open the Allegro of the Concerto per Maestro dè Morzin for bassoon, strings & continuo in G Minor, RV. 496 before the bassoon leads in a terrific theme full of good humoured joy. The incisive precision of La Serenissima is impressive as is the articulation of this fine soloist. In the Largo the bassoon brings a mournful, flowing melody over the leisurely ensemble in this really lovely movement. The ensemble run quickly into the Allegro with the bassoon soon bringing beautifully sprung phrases, terrific playing, such tip top fluency and articulation.   

The disc concludes with the second of the works for violin in tromba marina the Concerto for violin in tromba marina, strings & continuo in G Major, RV. 311. The Allegro has an incisive rhythmic opening from the strings before the soloist Adrian Chandler enters, equally incisive but with the light tone of the violin in tromba marina. There is a leisurely Andante with the soloist taking the lovely, gentle melody forward over the ensemble with the well-chosen tempo adding so much. The incisive strings return for the Allegro, taken at a moderate pace, with the violin in tromba marina adding some rather plaintive little lines with its lovely tone, light and appealing.    

Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima bring a Four Seasons to be reckoned with alongside two beautifully played bassoon concertos and the very real attraction of the world premiere of two Concertos for violin in tromba marina. Vivaldi lovers and, indeed all baroque music enthusiasts will surely want this new disc. The recording from the Hospital of St. Cross, Winchester, UK is exceptionally detailed and there are excellent notes from Adrian Chandler as well as details of the instruments. 

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