Neapolitan Concertos for Various Instruments
It’s interesting to imagine what kind of a musical London, Paris or New York we might be looking at today, were any of these cities’ excellent conservatories operating a similar portfolio to the ones being worked by the four conservatories of Naples during the early 18th century. Far from being simply the providers of musical instruction, these institutions were truly the painters of Naples’ musical wallpaper, providing the performances for its religious services, civil celebrations and patronal festivals, while their well-known composer-teachers’ activities equally covered all areas of public and private musical life.
All of which means that a conservatory theme offers rich pickings for any ensemble wishing to showcase the brilliance and variety of the Neapolitan musical Baroque, and that’s certainly what you hear from this concerto assortment from La Ritirata and Josetxu Obregón. Indeed, variety abounds across its various combinations of solo strings and recorders, and mix of contrapuntal and galant writing.
The instruments on these beautifully shaped, gently buoyant readings are a lovely-sounding bunch, so it’s a shame that they are not identified in the booklet notes. So I went and asked. The huskily soft cello of Obregón’s which first glides into play for the disc’s opener – Nicola Popora’s Sinfonia in C for solo cello, violins and basso continuo – is a 1740 Klotz. The airily mellow recorder with which Tamar Lalo so poetically takes the lead for the pair of recorder and two-violin concertos by Francesco Mancini and Alessandro Scarlatti is an alto after Bressan. And the sweet-toned violin with which Hiro Kurosaki dashes off the virtuosities of the concluding ceremonial-feeling concerto by Nicola Fiorenza (who allegedly threatened his pupils with a sword during classes), is a 1670 Rogeri.
Perhaps my favourite instruments-plus-concerto choice of all, though, is Pergolesi’s Concerto for two harpsichords and strings, where a colourfully sonorous Flemish model has been paired with a rich, tart German one, because the results are possibly the most ravishing textural combinations on the disc; particularly when the two properly overlay in the central Adagio. Beautiful stuff.