Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)   
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041 (c.1730) [14:22]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042 (before 1730) [18:10]
Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV1043 (1730-31) [16:01]
Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor, after BWV1060 (before 1736) [14:49]
Violin Concerto in F minor, after BWV1056 (n.d.) [10:13]
Violin Concerto in D minor, after BWV1052 (n.d.) [23:06]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)   
The Four Seasons, op. 8/1-4 (1725) [42:03]
Margaret Batjer (violin 2), Douglas Boyd (oboe), Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Salvatore Accardo (violin); I Solisti di Napoli/Salvatore Accardo (violin)
rec. London, July 1985; live, Cremona Festival, Naples, September 1987
ELOQUENCE 4825091 [74:09 + 65:40]

I'll begin with my conclusion: violinist Salvatore Accardo is a class act who enriched my understanding of these works. At the low/medium price of these 2 CDs I couldn't find a violin director of modern instruments of comparable quality, so I compared period instrument accounts. In the opening movement of the Violin Concerto in A minor the Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s introduction sets a suitably sprightly pace and quite spiky manner. Accardo enters with more grace yet balanced with fluency. I compared the 1996 recording in which soloist Andrew Manze directs The Academy of Ancient Music (Harmonia Mundi HMA 1957155). They are a touch spikier and the soloist maintains the same manner as in the orchestral introduction. The Andante slow movement spotlights Accardo’s expressiveness in its cantilena: he shows fine command of its flowing line and high notes softly realized with great sensitivity. Manze is eloquently reflective but Accardo has a more magical measure of the music's line. The finale is boisterous but Accardo still emphasises the shape of the line, preferring clarity over excitement. Manze is truer to Allegro assai with quicksilver display.

For the Violin Concerto in E major Accardo adopts a forthright, sturdy manner in the opening movement with the central section (tr. 4, 2:19) treated more reflectively. Manze, with lighter articulation and swifter progress, creates a more dancing, sleight-of-hand display. In the Adagio slow movement Accardo creates solemn mystery from the orchestral introduction and there's a sense of lament in his soft, sustained continuity of line. I found this more moving than Manze's fluency, taking 6:07 to Accardo's 7:13, which seems too hasty to reveal the depth of expression within the line. In the finale Manze has the fresher skip, although Accardo does achieve something of this in the soloist's pirouetting in the fourth episode (tr. 6, 1:50).

In the Concerto for 2 violins in D minor Accardo is joined by Margaret Batjer as second and they are well matched. The opening movement is fluent and resolute. Manze, joined by Rachel Podger, gives more emphasis to enjoying the virtuosity. In the slow movement Batjer begins tenderly reflective and homely, to which Accardo provides a sweet descant. This is all beautifully and spaciously distilled. Timing at 7:02, this for me is a more effective Largo ma non tanto than Manze and Podger's 6:23 which seems just a touch powered forward. Accardo and Batjer's finale, though a slower Vivace than Manze and Podger's, has vigour and more snap when the second violin immediately grabs the two semiquaver + quaver motif at the end of the first's phrases (e.g. at tr. 9, 0:10 and 0:13).

The Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor is a reconstruction of the lost original of Bach's revised version for 2 harpsichords. The soloists, oboist Douglas Boyd and Accardo, blend well, so you feel a continuous, ever replenishing stream of invention. Manze gives us a more spick and span Allegro, but the complexity of the contrapuntal interchange is more readily appreciated at Accardo's Allegretto-like tempo. Manze performs with Podger a reconstruction in D minor for 2 violins, but Accardo's use of two different solo instruments aids clarity. The Adagio slow movement is a lilting aria and the way Bach places the leaps gives purpose and poignancy to the expression. Manze, taking 4:48 to Accardo's 5:49, is too fast for Adagio which makes the aria more nonchalant and the leaps somewhat pinched. The finale is rigorous, spiky statement and contrapuntal support exchanged in turn by the soloists. Boyd and Accardo deliver this robustly. Manze and Podger are crisper and lighter. As well as the four concertos on the Manze CD Accardo offers two more reconstructed concertos. Their slow movements prove the most significant. That of the Violin Concerto in F minor is a lovely melody above pizzicato strings, played with sensitivity by Accardo, giving space to the line without detriment to its overall projection. Alas, that of the Violin Concerto in D minor is dogged by an extremely slow treatment of Adagio, with Accardo packing the solo with ornamentation to create more interest but thereby seeming more artificial.

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons depicts a very specific programme included in the early scores. Spring, Concerto 1, has from Accardo and Solisti di Napoli, a rather steady introduction for Spring's merry arrival. The birdsongs from the violin soloist soon joined by second violin are sweet and untroubled, so even the arrival of thunder makes little impression. I compared Fabio Biondi directing his band, Europa Galante, in 2000 (Erato 6025032). Timing at 3:02 against Accardo's 3:49 his is a truer Allegro, his birdsong is more chirruping, his thunder more of a shock. Come the slow movement, however, Accardo finds more magic in this Largo in the sheer expanse of his cantilena as the sleeping goatherd is lost in a lullaby. In the Country Dance finale Accardo's Allegro at 4:25 is more relaxed than Biondi's at 3:50. That said, I like its sunny quality and the way Accardo quietly emerges in total accord with his surroundings.

In the introduction to Concerto 2, Summer, Accardo gives us a sweet, lazy and hazy day. The turtle dove (tr. 8, 0:56) is beguilingly presented by Accardo, while his next portrait, of the goldfinch (1:23) is briefly distinctive in its higher pitch. In the tutti gentle south winds are replaced by violent north ones, a storm which is the cue for the shepherd's whingeing (2:24). Accardo enjoys its crusty wallowing. Biondi's faster tempo for this movement aids a more dramatic, scary presentation of the approaching storm. In the central movement, which alternates between Adagio and Presto. Accardo's finely sustained line places the focus on haunting, soulful lament, with the flies and wasps a sympathetic backcloth and the flashes of thunder a contrast. Biondi's solo has melancholy but his insects are more sinister and his thunder more oppressive. In the Presto finale, Accardo seems to become the spirit of the storm and I Solisti di Napoli play stunningly. Yet Biondi is more fiery and demonic.

Concerto 3, Autumn, begins with the villagers' harvest dance and I Solisti di Napoli are convivial with a sense of abundance. Accardo appears as village leader with a song. Soon he stands out even more, slithering around drunk but still with an element of politeness before slinking into sleep and thereby regaining a kind of dignity. Biondi's villagers live life in a faster lane and Biondi is equally the showman whether leading villager or drunk, even throwing in ornaments during his sleep and thereby rejecting dignity. Accardo's slow movement is soft slumbers for all, the soloist finely blending with the other violins. Biondi projects a more dense instrumental texture, making the dreams more sombre. The finale finds I Solisti di Napoli strutting heavily as huntsmen, Accardo their master portly and self confident in double-stopping (tr. 13, 0:39). By 1:39 he's portraying the hunted creature in panicking triplets. Finally he slows up slightly, but for death, not sleep. There's more military precision in Biondi's huntsmen. His beast is a virtuoso turn, even in its death throes.

Concerto 4, Winter, starts with a gradual crescendo given a feel of active foreboding by I Solisti di Napoli before the unleashing of the wind in Accardo's solo. Soon from the orchestral violins (tr. 14, 2:18) comes the grating sound that represents teeth chattering. Europa Galante's opening is more fearful. With Biondi's solo you feel an individual with supreme effort combatting the winds. For those chattering teeth Europa Galante create a creepy sul ponticello effect. The Largo slow movement's fireside contentment as the rain plops fairly heavily outside is achieved by a melody which Accardo treats with easy spaciousness. Taking 1:59 to Accardo's 2:25, Biondi's tempo is closer to Andante yet his treatment of the melody is attractively homely. The finale is about traversing thin ice. Accardo does it with the ease and grace of a master. There's thankfulness at the tutti which signals the arrival of warm wind (tr. 16, 1:48) before the energy and style with which all the winds are then celebrated. Biondi's warm wind arrives rosily soft, after which the harshness of the winds is accepted with virtuosic exhilaration.

Michael Greenhalgh

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