Pietro LOCATELLI (1695-1764)
L’Arte del Violino Op. 3 Concerti Grossi and Capricci (1733): Violin Concertos No. 2 [22.33]; No. 1 [20.35]; No. 3 [20.48]
Lisa Jacobs (violin)
The String Soloists/Janneke van Prooijen (concert-master)
rec. 21-22, 29 March 2015, Cunerakerk, Rhenen, Holland

Scratch the surface of many violinists’ life and you soon discover their joy or fear of the concertos and other pieces by the Italian-born Pietro Locatelli. You don’t have to venture too far into these three lyrical and spring-like works to discover it for yourself especially in these marvellous and beautifully balanced performances. Lisa Jacobs writes enthusiastically in her introductory booklet essay that she has loved Locatelli since childhood when hearing his music at home on Sunday mornings — well, it beats ‘The Archers’ — and that, as a consequence, it led her to learn the violin. Recording these works has been a wish for twenty years. Perhaps more from this set of twelve concertos are to appear next year.

It might almost seem that there is not much great music between Bach’s Brandenburgs and early Haydn. Well, there are those who would put Locatelli into that gap and others who think that these works are only of historical interest. Take your choice.

His Op. 3 collection, published in 1733, is unique and curious in its format. There is the unprecedented number of 24 Caprices published alongside the 12 concerti grossi. This publication was entitled L’arte del Violino. They were almost certainly composed in Amsterdam where he worked from 1729 until his death. Charles Burney, who met him there, says that he was “a voluminous composer”; he was certainly quite prolific with opus numbers up to 10 containing many works in each. Amsterdam was an ideal centre for books and indeed music publishing. The beautiful reproduction I have in front of me tells of its printer Michele Carlo le Cene.

Locatelli was known as an extraordinary virtuoso and wrote these concertos for himself to dazzle his audience. He perfected techniques new at the time such as multiple-stoppings, arpeggiando harmony, and the need for extremely challenging bowing and various ‘tricks’ and, in other works, re-tunings.

In these performances the Capricci are interspersed rather like cadenzas among the various movements, as Locatelli had intended. In truth these Capricci could be thought of as being rather akin to exercises. They may seem to be rather didactic but work well in context although some might be considered to be a little long. In addition Locatelli writes ‘cadenza’ over the last note of each indicating a little improvisation by the soloist to enable a lead into the final tutti.

Several violinists have taken the Capricci out of context and played them separately. Locatelli was clearly an early version of Paganini and was said to be devilish and to be so powerful and theatrical that his playing was once described as being akin to an earthquake. Lisa Jacobs does not go in for such effects but plays everything with grace, elegance and beautiful sense of phrase shaping.

These three concertos have three movements with a slow one in the middle as you might expect and often quite Vivaldian. As a result of the unaccompanied Capricci the outer ones are quite extensive. In op. 3 no. 2 the third movement’s length is basically doubled as a result.

The ‘String Soloists’ play with much style and sensitivity. They consist of three firsts, three seconds, two violas, three cellos, one bass and a keyboard. The booklet, which features a colour photo of the orchestra, has an essay by Lisa Jacobs, which gives a great deal of background but little about the individual works. The recording is excellent, clear and adds to the overall feeling of exquisiteness and sophistication.

Gary Higginson

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