Giuseppe Tartini - Palladians - Gramophone

For one so prominent in 18th-century violin music, Tartini is still quite a shadowy figure. The posthumously published Devil's Trill Violin Sonata, with its juicy story about the composer being visited in a dream by a violin-playing Mephisto, is by far and away his most-recorded piece, and understandably both opens this disc and gives its title; but the Palladians have gone deeper into their subject than that, offering two sonatas from the Op 1 of 1734 as well as one by Veracini, a violinist who exerted considerable influence on him.

This is clever programming, for while Tartini's music is undoubtedly difficult, the jittery virtuosity of the Veracini throws into relief its melodic grace and refinement. Tartini is known to have taken vocal music as his model, and nowhere is this better shown than in the sonata he entitled Didone abbandonata, and which in its three movements shows the tragic queen in her bewilderment, anger and despair, all without resorting to histronics; the final decline into falling sobs is work of real emotional sophistication.

Rodolfo Richter is a perfect violinist for this music, a player whose rock-solid technique, shining liquid tone and easy bowing allow him a rhythmic and lyrical freedom that really does seem to make his instrument sing. It is Tartini's sensitivity which is highlighted here though in the Devil's Trill Richter still catches the demonic side, rising to heights of passion in the first movement and ending the work in darkness and exhaustion, the diabolic vision having departed.

As one might expect from the Palladians, the continuo-playing is of a high order, imaginative but never clamouring for attention. It is a pity the balance has them slightly less in focus than the violin, but this is an excellent introduction to Tartini's world, presented with warmth and affection.

04 February 2009