I musicisti dell’imperatore

Raffaella Milanesi S, G.A.P. Ensemble
74:10
Pan Classics PC 10324
Caldara: Risoluto son già tiranno amore Piani: Violin sonatas op1/1, 3, 9
A. Scarlatti: Appena chiudo gli occhi Vivaldi: Lungi dal vago volto

The title of this recording is something of a marketing ploy – yes, Piani was one of the most highly paid musicians in Vienna but the violin sonatas on the disc were published in Paris before he was employed by the Habsburgs; Alessandro Scarlatti and Vivaldi’s connection was as composer to a particular residence, but how many times did they actually encounter the emperor? Caldara, of course, deserves his place on the programme though I am not sure what he would have made of this performance of one of his many cantatas… Giovanni Antonio Pieni (G.A.P., as in the ensemble’s name) published his op. 1 (a set of 12 violin sonatas) in 1712, nine years before he began almost 40 years of Viennese service. They build on the Corellian model but have not the stature of Locatelli, Veracini or even Geminiani. They are, however, all I can conscientiously recommend about this CD.

The problem is not the singer’s voice per se, but rather one of balance; the aggressive opening chords of the Caldara recitative and the “dramatic” interpretation that ensues from singer and continuo alike in my opinion distorts the music, pushing it to the very limits of good taste, especially with regards to tuning. In the arias, the single sweet-toned violin struggles to compete with the full-blooded operatic voice, and when the music has to slow down – not only for the entire “B” section, but also for some of the vocal coloratura – that really is too much; it was scarcely less uncomfortable, listening to the violinist’s efforts to draw not only more volume but also drama from his instrument.

Brian Clark