Giovanni Viotti
Violin Sonata No. 10
Hélène de Montgeroult
Violin Sonata Op.2 No. 3
Violin Sonata Op. 4
Violin Sonata No.2 Op. 10B No.2

Sophie Rosa Violin
Ian Buckle Piano

Rubicon RCD1056
Full Price

The Review

We either owe a lot to, or can blame a lot on, Giovanni Battista Viotti, depending on your perspective. Viotti was the first major virtuoso to adopt what we now think of as the modern bow and to adapt his style to accommodate it, moving away from baroque practice.

Since he alternated between Paris and London for forty years, trying and often failing to keep his head down when the political winds blew too strong between revolutionary France and Tory England, his influence was immense. The man from Turin was the link in the line of great Italian violinists that included Corelli, Vivaldi and Tartini, and culminated with Paganini.

As a composer, he wrote 29 violin concertos (now there’s a box set to keep Sophie Rosa busy), perhaps the last violinist to be in the prolific tradition of his predecessors whose technique he was changing so radically. In London he played in Salomon’s orchestra for the premieres of Haydn’s symphonies at the Hanover Square Rooms and led the orchestra at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. In Paris his pupils became the core of the instrument’s teaching at the new Conservatoire. Sophie Rosa, based and teaching in Manchester, has written an excellent article about its effect in The Strad (February 2021).

His music is amiable without being notably original and sits stylistically exactly where one would expect: between Mozart and Beethoven. His friend and accompanist Hélène de Montgeroult was more adventurous. She is best known for her piano music but this violin sonata shows her strengths well – a firm rhythmic base from the piano elaborated by the violin line. In the contemplative Adagio this works particularly beautifully and the bridge to Schubert’s writing a few years later is notable. Weber’s offering here is anaemic in comparison. As an academic, Montgeroult’s method influenced at least three generations of pianists and composers, Mendelssohn among them, and at 14, he would have been conscious of her approach. They certainly shared a love of long aria tunes, in her case adopted from her veneration of Handel.

Sofia Rosa and Ian Buckle guide the listener through this repertoire with warmth and assurance. This is grand salon music (Montgeroult’s salon in Paris was a famous destination in the early 1800s, her aristocratic background forgiven once Napoleon took charge) but it rises above the merely pleasant. Rosa and Buckle do not force it to be more dramatic than it is but very effectively allow its dignified richness to be revealed: a cleverly selected and rewarding programme elegantly performed.