Introducione in G, Op. 1 No. 1
Concerto for Recorder & Strings
Concerto XIII for Strings
Violin Concertos RV 281 & 353
Concerto for Sopranino Recorder & Strings, RV 443
Overture-Suite for Strings

Tabea Debus               Recorder
La Serenissima
Adrian Chandler         Violin/Director

Signum Classics SIGCD705
Full Price

The Review

Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima are becoming experts at exploring the byways of the Italian baroque and this disc is a delightful example of their series.

It is good to have characterful but rarely heard pieces by less famous composers interspersed between unfamous (as opposed to infamous!) works by the two famous names, Sammartini and Vivaldi. As Chandler notes, across 18th century Europe, “no court was complete without its resident Italian maestro or group of Italian string players”, mainly one suspects because they could be relied upon to produce music that was virtuosic but did not tax the patience of their aristocratic listeners too much.

Sammartini plied his trade in London from 1729 (to the annoyance of Handel) and lived long enough to influence the birth of the symphony as an important form. Evaristo Dall’Abaco settled in France, and Giuseppe Brescianello in Wurtemburg. His exact contemporary (both born in 1690) Lorenzo Zavateri, stayed in northern Italy, though, and according to Chandler wrote less than, as a violinist, he played. He was so close in age to Vivaldi that it would be surprising if they didn’t come across each other at some stage.

Chandler’s point in this selection is that, even if Vivaldi was altogether exceptional, his other compatriots were not at all bad. They were helped by the concerto and operatic formula of the time, which meant that any musician worth his salt could construct a piece according to the fashion that sounded tolerably competent. The trick was to go beyond that and produce something that seriously engaged the listener after dinner: that staunched the flow of social trivia. From his string concerto here, Dall’Abaco probably could. Oddly, since he was in France and no doubt aware of Rameau, his piece is the most Handelian, though he was born ten years before either.

Adrian Chandler has developed a definite penchant for the music of Brescianello as well as firm jawed album titles. An earlier foray (see my review of May 2020) was called The Godfather. Brescianello’s Overture-Suite here is top class, though, and well worth revival. It looks cleverly in all directions, combining the French collection of dances with the sort of formal structure that Telemann and Bach favoured, leavened by a bit of Italian dash.

La Serenissima – despite their Venetian name actually based in Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire (more Avon than Lagoon) – play with the right balance between attack and gentility that this repertoire needs, avoiding the tendency of many current groups to thrash the rhythms for all they are worth, or overload the continuo. They bring the music to life but without pretension. Tabea Debus is one of the brightest young wind players around and her recorder solos properly sparkle. Lots to enjoy here.