James Ehnes’ New Vivaldi Recording

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Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may be the most recorded piece ever written, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another great new addition to the catalogue. The newest contribution comes from Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes who has just released a Four Seasons disc with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on the Onyx Classics label. It’s always fun to hear different approaches to these famous Vivaldi concertos, some using baroque instruments and performance practice. Here, you’ll hear a full-toned, modern approach to the music. The recording also features Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata, as well as Leclair’s “Tambourin” Sonata, accompanied by pianist Andrew Armstrong.

Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) was the greatest French violinist of the eighteenth century, “the Corelli of France.” Listen to the rich array of tonal colors and the intimate conversation which takes place between the violin and piano in the third movement of the Leclair, Sarabanda: Largo:

Leclair’s Op. 9, No. 3 violin sonata gets its nickname from this fun, folk dance-inspired final movement:

Finally, just in time for winter, here is the icy chill of the first movement of “Winter” from The Four Seasons:

Fabio Biondi Plays Veracini

Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768)
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768)

 

Italian Baroque composers such as Corelli, Tartini, and Vivaldi have long been associated with the early development of the violin as a virtuoso instrument. Less well known, now, is Francesco Maria Veracini. Born in Florence in 1690, Veracini traveled throughout Europe, dazzling audiences with his violin sonatas and concertos. The English composer and music historian Charles Burney (1726-1814) described Veracini’s playing in 1745:

He led the band…in such a bold and masterly manner as I had never heard before…The peculiarities in his performance were his bow and, his shake [trill], his learned arpeggios, and a tone so loud and clear, that it could be distinctly heard through the most numerous band of a church or theatre.

Suzuki violin students will recognize this Gigue from Veracini’s Sonata No. 7 in D minor. Suzuki included it towards the end of Book 5. Here is a thrilling period performance by violinist and conductor Fabio Biondi. Notice Biondi’s spirited ornamentation:

Listen to the first, second, and third movements of Sonata No. 7.

Additional Listening

"A Violin’s Life" by Frank Almond

A Violin's LifeViolinist Frank Almond has come out with an exciting new recording which I highly recommend. A Violin’s Life: Music for the ‘Lipinski’ Stradivari was released on April 19, debuting on Billboard’s Top Ten Classical list. Almond is the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at Northwestern University. He is accompanied by pianist William Wolfram.

Here is the interesting story of how the “Lipinski” Stradivari, one of the world’s finest violins, came into Frank Almond’s hands in 2008. A Violin’s Life celebrates this instrument by featuring music from its impressive history. The disk opens with the “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), the violin’s first owner. Here is an excerpt:

Also included on A Violin’s Life is the rarely heard Violin Sonata No. 2 in F sharp, Op. 20 by Julius Rontgen (1855-1932), Caprice Op .29, No. 3 by the influential but largely forgotten violinist, Karol Lipinski (1790-1861) and Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.121. I found the Rontgen reminiscent of the Brahms Sonatas. The Lipinski Caprice is a daredevil virtuoso adventure in double stops.

A Violin’s Life can be found on iTunes and at Amazon. For listeners who are interested in delving deeper into to the history of this music and the “Lipinski” Strad, Frank Almond provides a website, aviolinslife.org. He introduces the CD and provides further samples here:

It’s widely believed that the sound of a violin can be influenced and shaped by the performers who use it. The rich lineage of the “Lipinski” Strad is on full display in this recording as the past meets the future. A Violin’s Life will be a fascinating and enjoyable recording for all who love the violin.