The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Chiara Banchini (violin/director) Ensemble 415
Composer: Albinoni

Tomaso Albinoni’s six Sinfonie a cinque, trio sonatas in all but name, alternate with concertos in his op.2 (Venice, 1700). Ensemble 415 performs them with an appealing simplicity, which spawns a natural feeling for style and a charming, unobtrusive sophistication.

The Sinfonie are presented out of order on this disc. Whatever the reason for this – marketing, one suspects – the result is that Albinoni’s intended curtain-raiser, the First Sonata’s introductory Grave–Adagio, is replaced as the ‘starter’ by arguably the collection’s most beautiful slow movement, the opening Largo of no.2. Violinists Chiara Banchini and Eva Borhi form a well-matched pairing and perform it, as they do all the slow (first and third) movements, with unassuming eloquence. They play the melodic material with winning flexibility, emphasising the dissonances of the chains of suspensions, relishing the richness of the harmonic progressions and introducing stylish, expressive ornamentation as appropriate. Evangelina Mascardi introduces some colourful and tasteful theorbo accompaniments, especially in the Adagios of nos.3 and 4.

Albinoni’s fast (second and fourth) movements are more remarkable for their vivacious rhythms and restless energy than their contrapuntal ingenuity. Nevertheless, listeners will be captivated by the spirited interchanges between the two violinists, the ensemble’s striking internal rapport and blend, the nicely pointed bass lines, the neatness and cut-glass clarity of the articulation and the colourful continuo contribution. These excellent performances open up Albinoni’s music in lively and infectious fashion and are assisted by a recording of realism and presence within an acoustic that provides the requisite intimacy of ambience.