Tuesday 18 August 2020

What makes the disc work is the sheer verve & engagement of the performances: Adrian Chandler & La Serenissima's Extra Time

Extra Time - Albinoni, Vivaldi, Brescianello, Matteis; La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 August 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Made up of music left over from other recordings, this disc might be easily overlooked but benefits from a sequence of engaging performances from Adrian Chandler and his ensemble

Extra Time - Albinoni, Vivaldi, Brescianello, Matteis; La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler; Signum
This delightful disc might well be called 'the bits left over', but in fact is Extra Time. On the Signum Classics label, Extra Time is a collection of recordings by Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima, covering music from the Baroque era by Tomaso Albinoni, Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, and Nicola Matteis the Younger. The music on the disc was recorded over a period of eight years, from 2011 to 2019 and mainly consists of extra pieces from recording sessions which were surplus to requirements at the time.

The results have a slightly eccentric feel to the programming, but essentially what we have is three works for trumpets and ensemble (the Albinoni uses two trumpets, and the Matteis pieces use four trumpets) which provide a beginning, middle and end, then there are three intriguing concertos by Vivaldi plus one by the lesser known Brescianello (an Italian who spent much of his working life in Germany). Adrian Chandler contributes an entertaining and illuminating article which explains the circumstances behind each recording, with happenstance moving towards deliberation as the mix of works grew.

What makes the recording work is the sheer verve and engagement of the performances. As with much Baroque music, the difference between a well-known and a lesser-known work can be marginal and sometimes the work of happenstance. So what we have here is a selection of lesser known works which are presented with such energy and patent enjoyment from the performers that we certainly want to hear them again. Chandler, who is the solo violinist in the four concertos, is not only a fine leader but a very engaging soloist.

We begin with the sinfonia to Tomaso Albinoni's opera La Statira, one of the only three operas by the composer to survive complete. It is a three movement sinfonia for two trumpets, two oboes and strings and the outer movements make stirring listening whilst the gentler Andante in the middle is a gem. The whole makes you intrigued as to what the whole opera is like.

The first of the Vivaldi concertos is Concerto per la Solennita si S. Lorenzo for violin, strings and continuo,  thus combining Vivaldi's sacred and secular manners in a concerto written for a saint's day. There is nothing particularly sacred about the music except that it is in four movements, slow, fast, slow, fast, and hence in sonata da chiesa form. Though the first movement is tiny and leads to a faster movement which is hardly fast! The concerto is full of imaginative touches from the drama of the very opening.

Next comes the concerto by Brescianello. He was born in Bologna, and may have known Vivaldi in Venice but Brescianello spent much of his working life in Germany, at the courts in Munich, and Stuttgart. Chandler describes his music as fusing Vivaldi with a harmonic outlook that is undeniably German. Certainly the opening Allegro is Vivaldi-esque, but no less interesting for that, and the slow movement is lovely with a sweetly expressive melody over accompaniment which does indeed have harmonic interest. For the finale we are very much in Vivaldi territory again, but done with terrific brio.

Opera at the Imperial court in Vienna usually had ballets at the close of the acts, and usually these were written by a different composer. So Antonio Caldara's 1722 opera Scipione nelle Spagne had ballet music by Nicola Matteis (who was born in London and whose father probably knew Purcell). Here we have something from the Act Three ballet music, for four trumpets, timpani, two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo, which alternates grand trumpet music with something more graceful and certainly the music of Purcell's London does not seem far away.

Vivaldi's Concerto per Sua Maesta Cesarea e Cattolica was written for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI. This is back in secular territory, with just three movements, fast, slow, fast. A highly engaging opening Allegro followed by a Largo where the refined soloist is pitted against dramatic unison strings. And then one of Vivaldi's wonderfully toe-tapping finales.

Vivaldi's Concerto for violin, strings & continuo in B flat, RV365 exists in two distinct versions as Vivaldi returned to the work and made significant changes, particularly to the finale. Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima recorded the original version in 2011 (when it was the first recording of the work), and this disc presents the revised version complete. I do not know the original version, but this revision is well worth getting to know. As ever, Chandler makes and elegantly refined soloist in the opening Allegro poco, with a slow movement which features one of Vivaldi's beautifully sweet melodies, followed by a perky finale.

For the final work on the disc we return to Vienna, with Nicola Matteis' ballet music for Caldara's Cajo Marziolano Coriolano, seven movements which have had missing instrumental parts re-created by Adrian Chandler. The music uses four trumpets, so we have some pretty grand ceremonial moments, but there is also a lovely graceful Ciaconna and the result is an attractive mix of movements.

This is one of those discs which you could easily overlook, funny mix of composers, no really well-known major work and a rather gimicky cover, but it would certainly be a shame to overlook it. Throughout, Chandler is a refined and persuasive soloist in the concertos, whilst he and his musicians give wonderfully engrossing accounts of the music.

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) - Sinfonia to La Statira
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Concerto per las Solennita di S. Lorenzo RV286
Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello (c1690-1758) - Concerto for violin, strings & continuo in G, Bre 9
Nicola Matteis the Younger (c1678-1737) - ballet from Act III of Antonio Caldara's Scipione nelle Spagne
Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto per Sua Maesta Cesarea e Cattolica RV 171
Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto for violin, strings & continuo in B fat RV 365 (late version)
Nicola Matteis the Younger - Ballo from Act III of Antonio Caldara's Cajao Marzio Coriolano
La Serenissima
Adrian Chandler (director/violin)
Recorded 2011-2019

Available from Amazon.

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