Everybody will know by now that Elizabeth Wallfisch has a special interest, affection and regard for the 17th- and 18th-century Italian violin schools. She has already recorded much music by the likes of Tartini, Corelli, Locatelli and others with her group, The Locatelli Trio, and also with The Raglan Baroque Players under Nicholas Kraemer. Here is a varied and fascinating collection of pieces by some of the lesser-known composers from a generation or two earlier than those composers.
The violin concertos here are not the familiar pair in A minor and E. Bach composed a number of concertos for orchestral instruments and later transcribed them as keyboard concertos. Reversing Bach’s procedure, Wilfried Fischer has taken the harpsichord versions and from them has reconstructed the originals. BWV 1056 is a transposed transcription of the Keyboard Concerto in F minor (though New Grove identifies the outer movements as being from a lost oboe concerto). The D minor work is also usually heard in its keyboard adaptation. The concerto in C minor for two harpsichords appears in its original instrumentation for violin and oboe, the soloists here being perfectly balanced for clarity of line. It was Tovey who suggested that the A major concerto may have been intended for the oboe d’amore, an instrument pitched between the oboe proper and the cor anglais.
My Ladye Nevells Booke is a collection of 42 keyboard pieces by the greatest English composer of his day, William Byrd. It includes dances, variations, contrapuntal fancies and battle-pieces, and was compiled seemingly from the composer’s manuscripts for Lady Nevell, half-sister of Francis Bacon and third wife of Sir Henry Nevell of Billingbere, who was her second husband. The volume, dated 1591 and handsomely bound, was acquired by the British Library in 2006. It constitutes a significant monument to Byrd’s achievement as a composer for the virginals.
The seven partitas of Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa contain some of Biber’s finest chamber music outside of the Mystery Sonatas. They are consistently inventive and delightful. Especially noteworthy is the extended No. 7 in C minor with its lovely Arietta, actually more of a passacaglia/chaconne. No.3 ends with a chaconne structured as a canon in unison over a popular Italian bass line. This is so similar in concept to Pachelbel’s ubiquitous canon that you can’t help wondering if one of them took a cue from the other. Certainly, if wrested from obscurity, Biber’s might give Pachelbel’s a run for its money.
Don't expect Telemann's Violin Concertos to match the Viola Concerto in lyric generosity or sheer memorability. He composed at least twenty violin concertos for his own use (he was a noted multi-instrumentalist), the earliest dating from c. 1707-08. They adhere to his usual Franco-Italian models, though are constructed with such cleverness and authority, and technical understanding, that the Corellian, Vivaldian and French elements are, if not absorbed into the bloodstream, at least present without sounding to be pastiche.
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.