Alexander Kerr, violin & conductor
Antonio Vivaldi – Violin Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, “Spring”
Antonio Vivaldi – Violin Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “Winter”
Edward Elgar – Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Divertimento in D major, K. 136
Recorded Friday, July 3, 2020.
Music composed for ensembles of string instruments extends as far back as the earliest formal gatherings of instrumental musicians more than 500 years ago. The first era in which a phenomenal performer truly flourished was the Baroque period, with Italy at the forefront.
Venetian-born Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) created the blueprint for the solo concerto form for all future generations. The “Spring” and “Winter” Violin Concertos of The Four Seasons were composed sometime in 1716/1717 around the time he was entering employment as Maestro di Capella in the northern Italian city of Mantua. These very popular concertos, published in Amsterdam in 1725 as part of Vivaldi’s collection Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“The Contest Between Harmony and Invention”), were widely circulated throughout Europe. The concerto blueprint features three contrasting movements (fast-slow-fast), with alternating core orchestral sections (tutti-ripieno ritornellos) and flourishing virtuoso solo instrumental passages (solo concertino dialogues), and in these special instances vividly depicting natural scenes of the calendar year.
The Serenade for Strings in E minor by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), although a relatively early work, already displays in 1892 the spirit and character of its composer’s mature musical persona. In three movements, we hear melodic lyricism contrasting with buoyant accompaniments, charming exuberance alternating with wistful contemplative melodies, wide upward intervallic leaps with close chromatic thematic cells. The Larghetto middle movement is a lyrical gem, so typical of Elgar’s “English” instrumental miniatures for which he was justly very famous.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed a miraculous amount of music in many genres during his short 35-year lifespan. With the Divertimento in D major, K. 136, composed in early 1772 as a piece for string quartet but no doubt with orchestral performance in mind, we find the Italian influence playing a key role. The 16-year-old Mozart had recently returned to Salzburg from a visit to Milan and composed a collection of three-movement string quartet pieces, reflecting the format of the Italian sinfonia and demonstrating expert agility in the Italian instrumental style. An Allegro sonata-form first movement is followed by a charming and graceful Andante, and the Divertimento ends with an energetically lively and playful Presto finale overflowing with string instrument bravura.
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