By Laurence Vittes | From the July-August 2022 issue of Strings magazine
In a catalog that seems relentlessly Vivaldi and contains only a lone Mozart recording (of the first three violin concertos), Fabio Biondi continues his quest to immerse himself in the sounds of ancient history. “It is important to play those who remain in the shadows,” he writes in his passionate liner notes. “They contributed just as much to the wealth of the history of music and the construction of new forms.”
Opera in Musica: Carlo Monza Quartets
Fabio Biondi, violin, and Europa Galante
So while researching music at the court of the Duke of Milan, where the 14-year-old Mozart composed an opera for the wedding of Empress Maria Theresa’s son, in order to understand the music Mozart would have been hearing, Biondi discovered the Milanese composer Carlos Monza. “His music is so beautiful and reflects so accurately the Milanese school in the second half of the 18th century,” Biondi writes, “that I wanted to make a recording of it.”
The six quartets are little programmatic delights, with evocative subtitles like gli amanti rivali (“rival lovers”), la fucina di volcano (“the forge of a volcano”), and la caccia (“the hunt”). Each is characterized by an operatic form complete with recitatives, in which gorgeous charm verging on transfiguring beauty alternates with mock moments of seriousness. They are more sophisticated than the quartets Mozart was writing at the time, which throbbed similarly but with more innocent ardor.
The performances are of the immaculate, razor-sharp variety you can only get in a brilliantly audiophile recording. String players and string quartets should take note of the attention paid to tone production and intensity in a historical milieu in which nuance flourished.