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img  Tobias
To most classical musicians, there is a choice you have to make: Do you want to be a shining solo star with all the glory and risks of an illustrous career or do you opt for the relative safety of orchestral employment? As two almost simultaneously released 2CD projects on ARTS Records and involving Italian Violinist Stefano Montanari show, these alternatives do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Understanding the music
“Il Cimento Dell’Armonia E Dell’Inventione Op.8 Nos. 1-12” is the lengthy title of a cycle of famous Vivaldi Concertos and features Stefano in his position of concertmaster/principal Violinist of the Accademia Bizzantina. The story of the Accademia goes way back to 1983 and during its 25 years of existence, it has made a name for itself as an ensemble with a knack for dynamic original practise interpretations on period instruments. Just the perfect environment for Stefano, who has specialised in the scene and indulges in side projects such as his trio “L’Estravagante”, the “J.Joachim Quartet” or the ensemble “Les Talents Lyriques”.

Do these different types of groups pose an adaptational problem for him in some way? “I like music, I like the orchestra or maybe even a big Orchestra and I like a small group”, Stefano says, jokingly adding: “Including solo violin!” To him, the format as such is not decisive, rather, the score itself is: “I think, for a musician, the most important thing is to understand the music! Regardless of whether it is French, Italian, German, etc... You have to understand the music and try to communicate emotions with it! You can speak about war or drama with a trio, just like you can speak about love with a symphonic orchestra.”

Fresh and enthusiastic
There is certainly a lot of emotion in the Vivaldi Concertos, recorded a full nine years ago and now reissued by German label ARTS on Super Audio CD. The ensemble plays with energy and a lot of unexpected dynamics. The sound is intense, brooding, agitated even – a result of the period instruments on the one hand, but undoubtedly of the unity of the ensemble as well, which can let go for more atmospheric passages and return to a tight and powerful forte in the very next moment. Stefano’s Violin has a lyrical and yet piercing tone, telling stories without turning overly solemn.

One of the highlights is the Accademia’s rendition of the “Four Seasons”, which sound fresh and enthusiastic. Its most prominent feature is the exuberant "Largo" from the "Winter" section, which is clearly not performed in the “largo” tempo the score prescribes and doesn't really chime in with Vivaldi's rather melancholic/cosy accompanying poem (“We spend the quiet and happy days by the fire, whilst outside the rain soaks everyone”) either. “Well, a Largo is not an Adagio or a Grave”, Montanari smiles, “and if you think of the Largo a slow tempo but in four, you can think of a tempo like my Largo - maybe!”

The motivation for the interpretation was of a simple nature, as he reveals: “In the score, you have the violins in pizzicato and the violoncello solo always in Forte, the basso continuo and the viola sempre Piano and Pianissimo. The idea was: The violins and the violoncello are like rain, and the rest depicts a calm and happy scene at home at the fireplace. So if you want to imagine the situation outside - that's all!” You can agree with him here or not, the contageousness of this movement makes one forget about questions of correctness right away.

Practical curiosity
As satisfied as he can be with this vivid release, there are still things he would like to change with hindsight. Adding cadenzas in between movements of “the Four Seasons”, for example. According to Montanari, the ensemble has also become more self-assured: “I think that we now play more relaxed and with less tension. We can offer more dynamics and less stress! The sound of the group is much better and now we can play free but with self control!”

A claim he was able to back up with a performance of Buxtehude’s Soanatas only a year ago. These are much more intimate and much less explosively sensous tracks: For anyone seeking the same kind of furious sturm und drang, the discs must surely come as a disappointment. Quite a logical reaction, according to Stefano: “There is absolutely no connection between the two projects. Buxtehude is simply a great project around a great composer, and a project very unusual for an italian group – compared to the Vivaldi.”

Instead, work on these pieces was led by a practical curiosity: “All the projects, or concerts, or even a simple rehearsal should be interesting and useful for everybody! With Buxtheude, I have to play with Viola da gamba, and especially in terms of articulation and sound I have to try always to find a good mix with the Gamba without losing the characteristics of my instrument.” You can here this fine balance act throughout, as Montanari soars to solo hights within the blink of an eye, only to return to the fold again right after.

Opportunities everywhere
It is this band-feeling which dominates the Sonatas and makes them an envigorating listen. It of course helps, that their creator was already in his essence a versatile artist with many angles from which to approach his oeuvre: “Buxtheude is a very interesting composer”, Stefano agrees, “His style is always between the old and the new. It is German but also Italian, especially the “opus two” is wonderful with more recitativi or concertati. I like that!”

None of the CDs succumbs to the stereotypical view of 17th century music as contemplative or dusty. Maybe it is a natural result for someone who does not believe in a strict division of labour. Stefano Montanari is able to bring his talents to the fore, regardless of whether he is a soloist or an orchestral instrumentalist. His creed chimes in with this view, which takes nothing for granted and sees new opportunities everywhere: “Music is life!”

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Stefano Montanari at the Accademia Bizantina
Homepage: ARTS Music

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