Mandolin on Stage

Mandolin on Stage
The Greatest Mandolin Concertos
Raffaele La Ragione

Il Pomo d’Oro, Francesco Corti
Outhere/Arcana A524. 66’56

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Mandolin Concerto in C Major RV 425
Baldassarre Galuppi (1706-1785): Sinfonia: from Il mondo alla roversa,
Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816): Mandolin Concerto in E-Flat Major; Sinfonia in B flat
Francesco Lecce (1750-1806): Mandolin Concerto in G Major
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Sinfonia in D Major Hob.I:106
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837): Mandolin Concerto in G Major

The Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto that opens this disk from Raffaele La Ragione and Il Pomo d’Oro will be well known to many people, but the other three lesser-known concertos are well worth getting to know. Using three different mandolins appropriate to each period, this recreation of the evocative sound world of this comparatively rare instrument covers the period from Vivaldi around 1700 to Hummel in 1799 via the Neapolitan composers Giovanni Paisiello and Francesco Lecce. The four concertos are interspersed with brief opera Sinfonias by Galuppi, Haydn, and Paisiello.

The programme note essay by Guido Olivieri sets the scene for the use of the mandolin. The earliest use seems to be in the 1589 Florentine Intermedi della Pellegrina, where the First Intermedio and the madrigal O qual risplende nube refer to the mandola, an early name of the mandolin. In the later 17th century the mandolin was generally limited to accompanying vocal pieces in opera and theatre performances. It was Vivaldi who lifted into a role as a solo instrument through his own concertos, although he also used a mandolin in the oratorio Juditha triumphans. Hasse refers to Speme gradita in his cantata A battaglia, pensieri as being an Aria con mandola.

The instruments used are described thus: “The Vivaldi uses a six-course Lombard mandolin by Tiziano Rizzi (Milan, 2020), based on an original by Antonio Monzino (Milan, 1792) in the Museo Teatrale alla Scala di Milano. It has double gut strings tuned in thirds and fourths. The Paisiello and Lecce feature an anonymous c1770 four-course Neapolitan mandolin double with metal strings tuned in fifths. The Hummel is played on a four-string Brescian mandolin with single gut strings, also tuned in fifths, by Lorenzo Lippi (Milan, 2018), after an original by Carlo Bergonzi II (Cremona, late 18th century), in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome.”

The playing is sensitive and musical. My only slight reservation is in the Vivaldi where the use of a plectrum gives a rather harsher sound compared to other recordings where finger plucking is used. The orchestral accompaniments are well-judged by director Francesco Corti. For me, the most musically satisfying movements were the slow ones – their faster companions can appear relatively lightweight in style. The change in styles through the century is apparent, with Lecce composing in the Galant style and Hummel showing Classical and early romantic influences, with an enhanced orchestral accompaniment. The pieces by Lecce and Hummel are premiere recordings on period instruments.

It was recorded in the attractive acoustic of the Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Vicenza, Italy. More information and a link to the booklet can be found here.