The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Imaginarium
Composer: Cima, Uccellini, Fontana, Monteverdi, Rognono, Castello, Gesualdo, Bassano, Frescobaldi, Pandolfi, and Veracini

This disc plumbs largely the early 17th-century Italian repertoire for the violin, when the instrument began to gain independence from its former roles in dancing or in doubling vocal parts. However, since the human voice has consistently served as a model for much violin writing, it also includes accounts of instrumental versions of selected madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo and other vocal music by Frescobaldi and Rognono, thereby emphasising the striking stylistic similarities between the two genres.

Each of the sonatas in this collection has a particular flavour and presents a kind of mini drama without words. The vitality and rhetoric with which Enrico Onofri and his colleagues infuse their interpretations are emphatically illuminating. Onofri’s contribution is particularly strong in personality. Just sample how, in the works by Cima (1610), Castello (1640), Fontana (1641), Uccellini (1645) and Pandolfi (1660), he spontaneously adapts to the composers’ various changes in style and mood, transforming sections of intimate vocal writing suddenly into passages of extrovert virtuosity. Particularly compelling are his phrasing and sense of line, his sensitive nuancing, his spontaneity and flexibility of pulse, his athletic virtuosity in the fast sections and his expressive use of vibrato and other ornamentation. Furthermore, the wide range of tonal colouring that he lends to these works accentuates their diverse and richly vibrant character.

Onofri’s vivid performances are enhanced by alert and versatile contributions from the members of Imaginarium and their associates. Add to this a fine, reverberant recording and the result is a disc to be savoured.