The Quartetto Aglàia’s performances of Baldassare Galuppi’s concertos a quattro, recorded in the Church of Santa Maria del Populo in Vigevano, first appeared as Stradivarius 33316 and have now been reissued as part of the label’s “Echo” series. Galuppi (1706–1785), often referred to as Il Buranello because of his birth on Venice’s nearby island of Burano, worked in Venice, where he rose from second maestro at St. Mark’s Basilica to first maestro, then departed for Russia, where he became the teacher of Dmitri Bortniansky, a student who eventually followed him back to Venice.
Galuppi’s seven concertos, written for what has come to be called the string quartet, display the newly popular three-movement form, the first often slow, followed by two faster ones. They range from the bright and elegant to the dark and complex. The First and Second Concertos, in B♭ Major and C Minor respectively, represent a sort of study in contrasts, with the Second’s Grave so serious, its Allegro so contrapuntal, and its Andante almost solemn. There’s nothing superficially elegant in either the major or the minor concerto, but the beginning of the Third Concerto, in A Major, still provides relief from the shadowy conclusion of the Second.
Francesco-Vittorino Joannes’s notes cite a passage from Stendahl, in which the author tried to sketch the four contrasting personalities of the string quartet (first violin young and confident, second violin a supportive friend, cello a sententious supporter, and viola a gossip who likes to break into the conversation). But this suggested guide works only part of the time, and historically aware listeners might occasionally find earlier textures periodically nudging out later ones—although it’s clear that the cello no longer serves to provide continuo support. The first violin hardly seems as dominant as Stendahl suggests, for example, in the many nearly homophonic passages.
The Quartetto Aglàia, represented in clear but reverberant recorded sound, seems, with Jorge Alberto Guerrero’s strong cello part, to have a greater affinity for the many somber moments than for the more cheerful ones (Galuppi himself may have preferred church-like shadows to bright Italian sunshine). That’s not to say that the Allegro of the Concerto in D Major (the fourth in the set), or the Spiritoso of the Concerto in G Minor (the fifth) or the genial counterpoint of the last concerto’s opening movement don’t bubble—even though with restrained effervescence—but bubbling doesn’t seem so congenial as sighing, as the somewhat solemn Andantino that follows immediately upon the Allegro in the D-Major Concerto makes clear.
For students of the period and of the development of the string quartet, Stradivarius’s release should be most welcome, although those who prefer a more modern sound ideal should also prefer L’Offerta Musicale’s version on Tactus 700701; its more spacious slow movements and its less pinched and hurried, yet still infectious, fast ones provide a set of performances that differ in more than timbre from the Quartetto Aglàia’s. While these latter can be recommended, then, the choice between them will most likely rest, therefore, on a listener’s corresponding choice between modern and period sound. FANFARE: Robert Maxham