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Hyperion Records

CDA66981/2 - Locatelli: Concerti Grossi Op 1
View on the Venetian Lagoon with the Tower of Malghera (detail) by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
Reproduced by permission of The Trustees, The National Gallery, London
CDA66981/2

Recording details: September 1994
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: July 1995
DISCID: 690C4F1A 880E471C
Total duration: 112 minutes 59 seconds

'I cannot imagine more persuasive performances than these' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Glorious … stunning performances … a marvellous release by any standards' (Classic CD)

Concerti Grossi Op 1
CD1
Allegro  [2'07]
Allegro  [1'32]
Largo  [1'22]
Allegro  [2'23]
Adagio  [1'50]
Allegro  [2'11]
Largo  [1'45]
Allegro  [1'15]
Allegro  [2'18]
Adagio  [1'54]
Allegro  [1'55]
Largo  [2'00]
Vivace  [2'15]
Allegro  [2'36]
Adagio  [2'08]
Allegro  [1'49]
Largo  [1'10]
Allegro  [2'07]
Largo  [1'30]
Allegro  [1'49]
Largo  [2'29]
Allegro  [2'21]
Adagio  [3'25]
Allegro  [2'09]
Largo  [1'26]
Allegro  [2'32]
CD2
Allegro  [1'57]
Largo  [2'35]
Allegro  [2'33]
Largo  [0'45]
Grave  [2'06]
Vivace  [1'22]
Vivace  [1'51]
Largo Andante  [2'42]
Andante  [1'31]
Largo Andante  [3'04]
Allegro  [1'58]
Largo  [0'52]
Allemanda  [3'17]
Largo  [2'23]
Allegro  [3'08]
Largo  [2'01]
Allemanda  [1'41]
Largo  [3'02]
Vivace  [2'21]
Largo  [2'38]
Allemanda  [2'59]
Sarabanda  [2'35]
Giga Allegro  [2'35]
Largo  [1'59]
Sarabanda Vivace  [1'38]
Presto  [1'19]
Gavotte Allegro  [2'13]

The concerto grosso form was popularized by Corelli, and Locatelli’s Op 1 is a marvellous example of the genre: its solid craftsmanship, imaginative textures and exciting virtuosity bringing it into the top rank. These works are ravishingly performed here by The Raglan Baroque Players, Nicholas Kraemer and soloist Elizabeth Wallfisch.


Pietro Antonio Locatelli was born in Bergamo on 3 September 1695. Little is known about his early life, but he was evidently a prodigy because he was already employed at Santa Maria Maggiore, the main church in Bergamo, in his mid-teens; the church authorities gave him leave to study in Rome in 1711. Tradition has it that he studied there with Corelli but the evidence suggests a connection with Corelli’s main Roman rival, Giuseppe Valentini. Locatelli worked in Italy until the late 1720s when his fame as a virtuoso took him on tours north of the Alps; he settled in Amsterdam in 1729 and remained there for the rest of his life. In Amsterdam he led a busy and successful life teaching, directing an amateur orchestra, and dealing in instruments and strings, as well as composing and publishing. He became a friend and colleague of the publisher Michel-Charles Le Cène, and issued with him a number of sets of concertos, including in 1733 his famous Op 3 concertos, L’Arte del Violino (recorded on Hyperion CDS44391/3). Locatelli evidently found it more lucrative to sell his chamber music himself, and he obtained a copyright privilege from the Dutch government for the purpose. His own publications, issued in elegant engraved editions, include a set of twelve Flute Sonatas, Op 2 (1732), six Trio Sonatas, Op 5 (1736), and a set of Sonate da camera for violin and continuo, Op 6 (1737, Hyperion CDA66363). To judge from the sale catalogue of his library, drawn up after his death in Amsterdam on 30 March 1764, Locatelli was a wealthy and cultivated man; his interests evidently included history, philosophy, theology and ornithology.

Locatelli’s connection with Amsterdam was established with his first publication, the twelve Concerti Grossi a 4 e a 5 con 12 fughe of 1721, the subject of this recording. In 1721 Locatelli had yet to leave his native land (he was apparently working mainly in Rome, but held a post as a visiting virtuoso da camera in Mantua), but followed Corelli and Vivaldi in having his concertos published in Holland. Music publishing was at a low ebb in Italy at the time. In the late seventeenth century printers in Venice and Bologna had been reluctant to abandon the archaic typesetting process, in which each note was on a separate piece of metal, making it impossible to beam fast notes. This had hardly mattered a century earlier, when music was mostly written in minims and crotchets, but was intolerable at a time when violin music had become full of passages of semiquavers and demisemiquavers. So, when Estienne Roger in Amsterdam overcame the problem in the 1690s by publishing collections of sonatas and concertos engraved from copper plates, Italian composers flocked to do business with him, and the connection was continued as late as the 1740s by Le Cène, Roger’s son-in-law.

Locatelli is traditionally thought of as ‘the Paganini of the eighteenth century’, largely because L’Arte del Violino contains twenty-four virtuoso unaccompanied caprices (ostensibly serving as cadenzas to the concertos) that have a superficial resemblance to Paganini’s unaccompanied caprices. L’Arte del Violino undoubtedly contains some of the most difficult violin music written in the eighteenth century, and listeners who have been attracted to Locatelli by its pyrotechnics will be surprised and perhaps initially disappointed by Op 1. There are some virtuoso passages for the first violin in the set but it is a collection of concerti grossi, not solo concertos, and by and large Locatelli conforms to the styles and forms of the genre established by Corelli and other Roman composers such as Mossi and his teacher Valentini. He certainly followed Roman practice by printing the concertos with four violin and two bass part-books, allowing for the traditional division between a concertino of two violins and cello and the ripieno or concerto grosso of four-part orchestral strings, though he also provided two viola part-books, allowing the concertino to become a quartet on occasion, as in Geminiani’s concertos. Locatelli also followed Corelli in dividing the set into eight da chiesa and four da camera concertos, and in making No 8 a Christmas concerto, full of echoes of Corelli’s famous work, even down to the concluding pastorale, ending with two quiet, detached chords.

Furthermore, Locatelli still largely retains the archaic structure of seventeenth-century instrumental music. All the concertos but one are in a minimum of four movements, and several of them use Corelli’s multi-sectional design with short contrasted passages sewn together like a patchwork quilt. It is no accident that the exception, No 7 in F, is the only one in the three-movement pattern long established by Venetian composers, for it is also by far the most modern in style, with a fiery opening Allegro for solo violin and strings. On the other hand, Locatelli’s Op 1 is far from being a slavish imitation of Corelli’s Op 6. In many respects it resembles the sets of concertos that Geminiani was to publish in London in the early 1730s. Locatelli shares with Geminiani (another Italian violinist who studied in Rome and settled in northern Europe) a fondness for combining conservative structures with an up-to-date musical language, and it is no surprise that he continued the concerto grosso format in all his later sets of concertos except for L’Arte del Violino.

This compromise between ancient and modern, Corelli and Vivaldi, Rome and Venice, appealed greatly to English audiences, as it must have done in Holland. Locatelli’s Op 1 seems to have been successful, for it was issued in a revised and corrected edition in 1729, and was republished by Walsh in London in 1736. Thus it is surprising that the set made so little impact on eighteenth-century England. Charles Burney gave Locatelli very short shrift, merely observing of his music that it ‘excites more surprise than pleasure’, while Charles Avison placed him among those progressive composers whose music was ‘defective in various harmony and true invention’. Had they known his Op 1 they might have revised their opinion, for the collection, with its solid craftsmanship, imaginative textures and exciting virtuosity, deserves to be ranked among the best sets of concerti grossi.

Peter Holman © 1995

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