Hyperion Records

Violin Concerto No 22 in A minor, G97
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755–1824) was foremost a violinist and composer for his instrument, but an opportunistic streak led him into other areas and away from his native Italy. His early violin teachers included Gaetano Pugnani, with whom he undertook an extensive concert tour to Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Russia (1780–81), such was his early brilliance. In Paris, he tired of the virtuoso way of life despite enthusiastic acclaim, and ‘escaped’ into the service of Marie-Antoinette at Versailles. His administrative skills soon surfaced. He created a new opera house and supported several younger composers by mounting their operas, but in 1792 the Revolution forced him to abandon everything and flee to London. There he resumed his virtuoso existence, becoming prominent in Haydn’s concert series. Trumped-up political charges drove him to Germany in 1798 but about two years later he was back in London, this time to sell wine! An unhappy period in Paris (1819–23) brought him close to despair and he died soon after returning to London.

For all his patchy career, his position as the leading violinist of his time is undisputed. He is regarded as the founder of modern violin playing. Following Tartini, his skill was unsurpassed until the appearance of Paganini, and his numerous compositions naturally concentrate upon his own instrument. He wrote twenty-nine violin concertos between about 1782 and 1805; they are important as ‘gap-fillers’ between Mozart’s and Beethoven’s but their quality puts them far above what that phrase implies. No 22 in Giazotto’s list is dated ‘c1792–7’.

A lengthy orchestral tutti creates an atmosphere of sombre expectation which is only marginally dispelled by the soloist’s contemplative entry. Here Viotti, the master violinist-composer, shows his paces in a well-constructed movement of contrasting moods in which display is neatly juxtaposed with thematic strength. The Adagio is a placid and beautiful interlude, the Agitato assai finale possesses an intriguing subdued urgency, and the whole work provides a valuable insight into the influences to which Spohr was exposed early on. Even Brahms came to admire this Viotti Concerto.

from notes by Robert Dearling © 1996

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