MONTANARI Violin Concertos
‘One is right always to be more than a little cautious about pleading in favour of the admission of a previously ignored composer to the modern performing repertoire,’ writes Michael Talbot in the foreword to this world premiere recording of violin concertos by the Baroque composer and violinist Antonio Maria Montanari (1676-1737). However, Talbot, along with other notable musicologists, firmly believes that this forgotten Italian’s concertos are some of the finest of the period, and the expressed purpose of this recording is to give the CD-buying public a taste of his music in the hope of initiating a revival. I hope it works, because, in my book at least, the musical strength of these works more than matches their genuine stylistic distinctiveness.
The disc presents four of a group of eight concertos for one or two violins published in Amsterdam around 1730, plus a probably later concerto collected by Quantz (conversely, the least interesting of the lot). A whistlestop description of the Montanari sound would include harmonic inventiveness and greater virtuoso demands made of the principal violinist than with Corelli’s works (although still less than with Vivaldi). Also light textures, which are accentuated by a viola part not always being included, and continuo often played without a bowed bass, theorbo or lute.
It’s all music that would shine through even in merely adequate performances, but Ensemble Diderot’s one-to-a-part readings on original instruments are truly superb, translating what have evidently been intense scholarly labours into a recording that sparkles with enjoyment and understanding of the music. Set within the warmly supportive acoustic of Toblach’s Gustav Mahler Saal, limpid crispness and zing sing out over a deliciously mellifluous overall balance. Then, the clean, lyrical virtuosity from principal violinist Johannes Pramsohler, and indeed from harpsichordist Philippe Grisvard, is of the kind that begs you to simply sit back and soak it all up. Listen to the perfection of Pramsohler’s double-stopping in No 1’s second movement or his rapid arpeggiated chords in the Grave of No 8. Equally to savour is the duetting between Pramsohler and second violinist David Wish, for instance their delicate dovetailing in No 1’s lilting, siciliano-like third movement. If only all newly discovered Baroque works sang and fizzed like those in this collection do.