Viotti: Complete String Quartets

Album cover art for upc 5028421952642
Catalog: BRI95264
Format: CD

Viotti String Quartet

Having recorded the only complete set of Viotti’s violin concertos, Franco Mezzena may be counted the foremost modern exponent of an unjustly overlooked composer. Born the year before Mozart in 1755, Giovanni Battista Viotti has been eclipsed by his Salzburg contemporary – for who would not be? Yet Viotti wrote so much more than display vehicles for the instrument of which he was the pre-eminent Italian virtuoso of his generation. He composed quartets throughout his eventful career, which included a brief period as a wine merchant. The agreeable, undemanding idiom of his quartet-writing reveals not only his own fondness for music that he and his friends and pupils could play together privately, but also the growing tendency to make the concert repertoire available to amateur musicians in their own homes. The set of six quartets Op.1 was published in Paris around 1783. The general mood is serene and enjoyable but never banal, thanks to Viotti’s skill at surprising listeners with unusual combinations of timbre and register across the four instruments. The incisive start of the first quartet, for example, is reminiscent of a concerto, whereas in the fourth, and even more so in the fifth quartets of the set, the individual timbres of the viola and cello are interwoven to great effect, here and there evoking a sense of mystery, or indeed drama. Op.1 met with considerable acclaim, and was followed soon after (1787) by the six quartets of Op.3, that are clearly a development and completion of the first collection. Dedicated to his brother André, the following three quartets, which have no opus number, cross the threshold of the 19th century. Viotti himself took pleasure from them: ‘really fascinating and perhaps something more’. The set is completed by a standalone work in E minor, which is a free arrangement of the Violin Concerto No.18, including the addition of a new second movement and a slow introduction. Mezzena’s playing of Viotti comes ‘highly recommended’ in a 2004 survey of French violin school recordings by the Music Library Association. The veteran violinist has founded the present ensemble specifically to play these works of unfailing charm.

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