The Winged Lion
''The Winged Lion'' claims to celebrate early Venetian instrumental music. The Palladian Ensemble offer characterful performances that aim above all to make compelling musical statements. It seems increasingly that the trend among younger ensembles is to market the exotic qualities of early music, leaving aside the trappings of scholarship with which it has generally been associated. Any research into the editions and performing practices is kept well in the background—so much so that only the very well-informed will know for sure where the lines between historicity and interpretation have been drawn. We are not, for example, told that a number of the works on this CD were composed for instruments different from those used here. Neither are we told that some of them have no real connection with Venice. Nor is the music grouped in any sort of obvious order or exclusively from the beginning of the seventeenth century, as the booklet implies.
The Palladian Ensemble are extremely confident and artful musicians, and they play very well together. they are at their best as an ensemble of individuals. The Castello sonata with which they begin offers a perfect example of their approach: the quick sections sprightly and tartly articulated, the slower sections rhetorical, everyone has at least one moment to shine as a soloist, not least the theorboist William Carter, who accompanies divinely. Cavalli's Canzon from his Musiche sacrae of 1656 is performed with sensitivity and the little ground-bass section four minutes into it is sublimely realized, although an organ (called for by the composer) might have added an appropriate gravitas.
It should be pointed out that G. B. Vitali worked in Modena (where his Op. 7 was published in 1682) and probably never set foot in Venice. The Ciacona was originally scored for two violins and violone with spinet—which is not to say that it isn't successful on recorder, violin and cello with guitar. The booklet writer remarks in particular on the vogue for guitar in Venice, hence the inclusion of two very slight guitar solos by the mysterious (and probably not Venetian) Santiago de Murcia (fl.1700). G. B. Buonamente was a violinist who worked in Mantua, Parma and Vienna, but not Venice, although he did publish his 1626 collection there. The Palladian Ensemble bring his suite off with strong contrasts of sweet lyricism and highly articulated dotted and syncopated rhythms.
Marco Uccellini, also a violinist, pursued his career in Modena and later Parma, like Buonamente, he published his music in Venice. Rachel Podger performs the Sonata quarta (Op. 5) with due poise and virtuosity, accompanied by the theorbo. She and Carter are joined by the recorder player Pamela Thorby and the cellist Joanna Levine for the last three items, based on popular tunes (published in 1645, not 1642); these works have been recently recorded by Nicholas McGegan's Arcadian Academy on two violins (with cello, keyboard and guitar, Harmonia Mundi, 7/94). Thorby's commanding tone, in which hardly a tremor of vibrato is allowed to intrude, changes the balance in these works, which is clearly just the effect Vivaldi wanted in RV84 and RV100 (which, incidentally, calls for bassoon as the bass instrument). RV84 is a trio sonata, not a concerto, although the flute part is soloistic and the violin part ripieno-ish. The concerto character is again evident in the contrasting slow movement for flute and cello alone.
The general effect of this concert of short tracks by different composers is confusing because it lacks a clear theme; the repertoire here is simply too diverse.'