One tends to associate the virtuoso violin repertoire with the 19th century, but in their own way these five sonatas, written between 1714 and 1743, offer an equally dazzling display of speed, facility, bow control and tonal variety. No wonder: the composers were among the foremost violin virtuosos of their time, as well as tireless innovators of technique and style; several even wrote treatises on violin playing. The earliest, and least familiar, is Michele Mascitti, a Neapolitan who moved to Paris when he was 30. His "Psyché," the program's only piece in a major key, is a divertissement in ten short "tableaux" on the theme of Cupid and Psyche, with the violin and continuo as the two protagonists. Refined and elegant, varied in texture, expression and character, it ranges from tender love songs to slow and fast dances, including a wild Badinage. Veracini's Sonata Op. 1 No. 1, a dance suite with an unusually active cello part, opens with a slow Overture and ends with a Giga del Postiglione, in which the violin imitates a posthorn's call. The other three sonatas are basically dramatic and melancholy, highly ornamented, full of double stops, running passages and cadenzas. Locatelli's is distinguished by a very elaborate keyboard part and a lot of spiky syncopation in the finale. Geminiani makes the violin sound quite luscious, almost romantic; his rhythms and phrases are startlingly irregular. He shares the exploration of the high register with Tartini, whose Sonata displays his incomparable melodic gift and trademark obsession with trills. The performances are beyond praise. Biondi, one of the deservedly most renowned baroque violinists, plays with enormous brilliance, expressiveness, and endlessly varied articulation and nuance; there is a sense of spontaneous exhilaration in his inventive, improvisatory ornamentation: he seems to be playing with the music and the violin. His partners, some manning several instruments, match him in every way.-Edith Eisler
A case of deja entendu here, since I reviewed these performances when they originally came out. I enjoyed them then and still do, for both artists offer wit, affection and agility. One can at times think the sheer force and passion of Martha Argerich's personality a bit too obvious, not least in the C major Sonata, where Maisky characteristically sounds smoother and more persuasive.
Nine cello sonatas by Vivaldi have survived. Six of them were published as a set in Paris in about 1740; that set, mistakenly known as the composer's Op. 14, contains the sonatas recorded in this release. The three remaining sonatas come from manuscript collections. All but one of the six works are cast in the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern of movements of the sonata da chiesa. The odd one out, RV46, in fact, retains the four movement sequence but inclines towards the sonata da camera in the use of dance titles. The music of these sonatas is almost consistently interesting, often reaching high points of expressive eloquence, as we find, for example, in the justifiably popular Sonata in E minor, RV40. Christophe Coin brings to life these details in the music with technical assurance and a spirit evidently responsive to its poetic content. Particularly affecting instances of this occur in the third movements of the A minor and the E minor Sonatas where Coin shapes each phrase, lovingly achieving at the same time a beautifully sustained cantabile.
On this recording, Steven Isserlis, together with his regular collaborator, fortepianist Robert Levin, presents a magisterial compendium of Beethoven's complete works for cello and piano, including Beethoven's arrangement of his Horn Sonata. The use of the fortepiano opens up a wealth of sonic possibilities for these works.