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GRAMOPHONE (04/1992)
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Harmonia Mundi
HMG 501366

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Reviewer: Nicholas Anderson


Here is an attractive, thoughtfully prepared programme of duo and trio sonatas by Vivaldi. Chiara Banchini, with a nucleus of her Ensemble 415, plays two trios from Vivaldi's first published collection, Op. 1 and four sonatas with an optional bass line which remain unpublished to the present day. The trios from Op. I are the Eighth Sonata in D minor (RV64), and the last and best known of the set , La follia, also in D minor (RV63); only this last-mentioned piece is absent from the two separately available discs which the Purcell Quartet recently recorded for Chandos. But whereas the Purcell Quartet drop the optional continuo in only two of the sonatas so designated (RV70 and 77) Banchini excludes it from all four pieces; so there is less duplication than might at first appear.


There is a pleasingly natural, unaffected aspect to Banchini's musical approach; no shortage of affecting gestures here but a welcome absence of excessive deliberation and exaggerated mannerism. Banchini and her partner Véronique Méjean bring plenty of contrast in tempo and colour to La follia and I find much to admire and excite the senses in their performance. And the attractive Sonata No.8 of the set, laid out like a suite, comes over well, too .


The four sonatas for two violins make rewarding listening. The Sonata in G major (RV71) is a particularly expressive one, which Vivaldi seems to have reworked from the Concerto in G major for two violins and strings (RV516). It has nothing, however, to do with the composer's Concerto in A major, (Op. 9 No . 2) as is suggested in the insert-note. Banchini and Méjean play this and the other three sonatas with assurance and a good ear for nuances of tuning and expression. Even so, I sometimes found myself missing the exuberance of Catherine Mackintosh and Elizabeth Wallfisch on the Chandos discs.


Each partnership has its own distinctive musical rapport, though where Mackintosh and Wallfisch score in esprit Banchini and Méjean restore the balance with what strikes my ears as more careful preparation and closer attention to detail. In short, there is little to choose between the two. Banchini takes us deeper into the violinist's world with concentrated performances of these Sonatas senza basso, while the other team achieves marginally greater spontaneity. The new issue can be warmly commended for repertory, playing and recording alike.

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