Fluent and appealing Classical-era chamber music in definitive new recordings.
Having recorded the only complete set of Viotti’s violin concertos (on 10CD), Franco Mezzena may be counted the foremost modern exponent of an unjustly overlooked composer. Born the year before Mozart in 1755, Giovanni Battista Viotti has been eclipsed by his Salzburg contemporary – for who would not be? Yet Viotti wrote so much more than display vehicles for the instrument of which he was the pre-eminent Italian virtuoso of his generation. He composed quartets throughout his eventful career, which included a brief period as a wine merchant. The agreeable, undemanding idiom of his quartet-writing reveals not only his own fondness for music that he and his friends and pupils could play together privately, but also the growing tendency to make the concert repertoire available to amateur musicians in their own homes.
The set of six quartets Op.1 was published in Paris around 1783. The general mood is serene and enjoyable but never banal, thanks to Viotti’s skill at surprising listeners with unusual combinations of timbre and register across the four instruments. The incisive start of the first quartet, for example, is reminiscent of a concerto, whereas in the fourth, and even more so in the fifth quartets of the set, the individual timbres of the viola and cello are interwoven to great effect, here and there evoking a sense of mystery, or indeed drama.
Op.1 met with considerable acclaim, and was followed soon after (1787) by the six quartets of Op.3, that are clearly a development and completion of the first collection. Dedicated to his brother André, the following three quartets, which have no opus number, cross the threshold of the 19th century. Viotti himself took pleasure from them: ‘really fascinating and perhaps something more’. The set is completed by a standalone work in E minor, which is a free arrangement of the Violin Concerto No.18, including the addition of a new second movement and a slow introduction.
Mezzena’s playing of Viotti comes ‘highly recommended’ in a 2004 survey of French violin school recordings by the Music Library Association. The veteran violinist has founded the present ensemble specifically to play these works of unfailing charm.
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) received his musical education from Gaetano Pugnani. He served for a short time at the Savoy Court in Turin but soon he spread his wings and travelled to Paris, where he was an instant success as a supreme violin virtuoso. He served for a time at the court of Versailles before he founded an opera house in Paris. The French revolution urged him to go abroad and he settled in London, where he featured in the Hanover Square concert series and was active as a concert organizer and impresario, as well as one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society of London.
Viotti was an influential violin player and teacher. He composed 29 violin concertos. His string quartets, which are here recorded complete, feature the first violin prominently. The music is in Early-Classical style. Based on the principles of the Viennese Classics it hints at more romantic feelings of times to come.
Played by the Italian Viotti Quartet, paying an impressive tribute to their name giver Giovanni Battista Viotti.