Italian conductor, harpsichordist and organist Rinaldo Alessandrini and his versatile period-instrument ensemble Concerto Italiano have for many years possessed a reputation for over-the-top yet technically precise performances of Renaissance and Baroque vocal and instrumental music.
Their high-octane recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has to be heard to be believed, while their ability to communicate the eroticism, febrile intensity and innovatory chiaroscuro of the madrigals of Monteverdi and Gesualdo is treasured amongst connoisseurs of that repertoire.
Here they apply their considerable interpretative skills to Italian chamber music written at a time of musical transition, when the polyphonic textures of the Renaissance were giving way to a more homophonic language enlivened by soloistic flights of fancy.
Using the Italian string quartet format, which would eventually lead to the classical string quartet, aand filling out the harmonies with theorbo, harpsichord and/or organ, Alessandrini and his fellow musicians explore music written by travelling Italian composers including Frescobaldi, Torelli, Bononcini, Marini, Zanetti, Merula and Castello.
Here are the dances, canzones and fantasias long favoured by Renaissance composers, streamlined and then re-embellished, the resulting sonatas and sinfonias electric with virtuosic passages and sometimes belligerent “conversations” among the instruments.
A good example of the latter is Castello’s Battaglia from his Sonata decimasesta a quattro. The playing is superb throughout, with Alessandrini’s customary colourful and imaginative keyboard realisations a perfect match for Mauro Lopes Ferreira and Nicholas Robinson’s multi-timbred virtuosity on the violins and Ugo di Giovanni’s painterly voicings on theorbo.