Why ‘Bologna 1666’? Well, thankfully not because there was a fire there. But the date is a touch misleading, since it is not that of the music but of the founding of the city’s Accademia Filarmonica, a sort of high-level guild of composers and performers whose demanding standards made it a benchmark of excellence – particularly on matters theoretical – right up to Mozart’s time. All the composers here were members of it while also working at the Basilica di S Petronio, so although they range chronologically from Colonna (born in 1637) to an anonymous composer working in the 1750s, there is every justification for considering them a distinct ‘Bologna Instrumental School’ to set alongside the more familiar Corellian ‘Roman’ and Vivaldian ‘Venetian’.
It makes a pretty good subject for a CD. Torelli is the only reasonably well-known name, and while Zavateri’s Op 1 concertos were recorded in full by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in 1996 (DHM, 8/96), he is no more likely to be familiar to most people than are Perti, Alberti or Laurenti. In truth, the sinfonias struggle to engage when divorced from their intended oratorios, but the concertos here are vital works with true characters of their own. For descriptive purposes one could say that they combine the confident energy of Vivaldi with the richer textures of Corelli, but it would probably be fairer to appreciate these composers in their own right. Vivaldian influence is evident in the concertos of Alberti, but like the others he provides his solo violinist with a more shapely kind of virtuosity. And Zavateri’s A tempesta di mare is a super piece.
The Basel Chamber Orchestra, on period instruments, do them proud with their coursing full sound and evident joy in the music, capped by director Julia Schröder’s easily virtuoso and tonally ample solo violin. Here is proof that there are still plenty of invigorating Baroque concertos out there to be rediscovered and enjoyed.