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Violin Concertos Nos 1-5
Isabelle Faust, Giovanni Antonini, Il Giardino Armonico
Harmonia Mundi HMC90230/31 (2CD)
Isabelle Faust is an exemplar of the new generation of Modern String Players who have assimilated the techniques of Historically Informed Performance with cross-pollination, inspiring a pragmatic hybrid style. The sickly constant vibrato and bland homogenised phrasing of yesteryear is replaced with a clean-cut sound of impeccable intonation and rhythmically alert rhetorical gestures, effortlessly articulated by her phenomenal bowing technique, (as heard in her breathtakingly beautiful performances of the Mendelssohn Concerto on tour in Australia this year).
Faust’s self-effacing persona and collaborative spirit is evident from her various partnerships in chamber music, while the breadth of her repertoire choices and her interest in contemporary works reveals a sharp musical intellect. Yet the end results are music-making of a stimulating spontaneity with a complete freedom from stylistic dogma.
This latest release is a perhaps surprising collaboration with Il Giardino Armonico, one of the first Italian groups to embrace HIP. Their early recordings of Vivaldi were a shock to the system with their abrasive rustic accents, but in later years, changes of personnel have refined their sound and they are truly magnificent here under long-term director
and co-founder Giovanni Antonini.
Accents are as crisp as ever but not so grating as to wear thin. Wind sonorities are pellucid with remarkably precise tuning and blend, horns as bucolic as ever but less inclined to dominate. Tempi are brisk but not frantic. Faust weaves in and out of the orchestral texture with enough forward projection to never be lost, and her amazing bowing arm animates passage work with nudging accents and nuances. Figurations that once seemed note-spinning gain new meaning in a witty discourse; witty too, are the marvellous cadenzas written by Andreas Staier.
Revelations and delights abound throughout. The gentle main theme in the Rondeau of K216 is delivered with blithe insouciance before Faust lets rip with virtuosic flourishes. The concluding phrase of the Rondo, K373 is dispatched with such a perfectly timed lift into the air as to make me chuckle with delight. Faust’s entry in the first movement of K219 is like spider silk borne aloft on
the gentlest zephyr.
Thanks to yet another perfectly engineered recording by Harmonia Mundi, I revelled in delicious details normally lost and could hear soloist and orchestral players bouncing ideas off one another – a back and forth exchange with subtle variations of colour and phrasing. We have long suffered performances that hide the true nature of these works behind their Rococo prettiness, so we should be grateful to Faust
and her cohorts for grabbing them by the scruff of the neck and shaking off all that powder and rouge to reveal the flesh and blood underneath.