il labirinto armonico. Locatelli: Three Violin Concertos. Ilya Grinolts, Finnish Baroque Orchestra. © 2020 BIS Records AB

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GERALD FENECH is impressed by Ilya Gringolts' performances of three violin concertos by Pietro Locatelli

'Ilya Gringolts' playing is phenomenally spellbinding, and his scintillating virtuosity and flawless execution are absolute joys and wholly worthy of constant admiration.'


Pietro Antonio Locatelli was born on 3 September 1695 in Bergamo, the first of seven children of Filippo Andrea and Lucia Crocchi. Little is known of his musical education, though he may well have studied at the 'Accademia' of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in his home town. In 1711 the composer explained in a letter how he used to practice in the choir loft of the Basilica to improve his violin playing. At the end of that same year he left Bergamo forever and moved to Rome, where Corelli was the 'star' violinist. We are not sure whether Locatelli studied under Corelli and, in any case, the period must have been brief. Among his possible teachers were two violinists in the Cappella of Cardinal Ottoboni, Giuseppe Valentini and Antonio Montanari. For a short while he was also a member of the Caetani's family 'Cappella'.

In 1723 he left Rome for Venice, where very soon he fell under the spell of Vivaldi's violin concertos. It was in this city that Locatelli composed his Arte del Violino, a work that was first published in Amsterdam in 1733. These twelve violin concertos, and especially the twenty-four Capricci for solo violin incorporated within them, created the image of Locatelli as the first virtuoso in the manner of the late Paganini. Despite Locatelli's extremely virtuosic technique, his playing in the highest register attracted some criticism for a lack of tonal beauty; consequently he was relegated behind other violinists.

In 1729 'il Bergamasco', as he loved to be called, arrived in Amsterdam, where he would remain until his death on 30 March 1764. He seems to have given concerts for small audiences at his home, where no professional musician was welcome. Locatelli was afraid that his artistry might be imitated, so he took no chances on this count. Still, his name as a supreme violinist became legendary. Nowadays we associate Locatelli primarily with his Op 3 L'Arte del Violino, twelve concertos with twenty-four capriccios included as ad libitum solo sections in the outer movements of each concerto.

A loner and neither the product nor the founder of any school, Locatelli is nonetheless the catalyst and forerunner of the incipient virtuoso style which reached its zenith with Antonio Lolli (circa 1725-1802) and Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840). All of the Op 3 concertos are in three movements, with an Adagio in the middle.

Listen — Locatelli: Adagio (Violin Concerto in D, Op 3 No 12)
(track 8, 2:55-3:19) ℗ 2020 BIS Records AB :

In accordance with the old tradition, the solo violinist plays along in all the tuttis. Similar to Vivaldi's concertos, the solos are usually accompanied by only one instrument per part. The capriccios are not cadenzas in the conventional manner, but rather independent compositions without any thematic connection to the concerto movements.

Listen — Locatelli: Allegro - Capriccio (Violin Concerto in G, Op 3 No 9)
(track 1, 3:39-4:20) ℗ 2020 BIS Records AB :

The Concerto No 12 with the Labirinto Armonico is the technical high point in the set. Almost three hundred years on, these concertos are still regarded as groundbreaking pieces. Indeed, when they first appeared on the scene, the musical world was stunned by the composer's imaginative writing for the instrument, and many argued that they were unplayable. Well, they are not, but Locatelli's Op 3 took both violin technique and the solo concerto as a genre into a whole new realm. The capriccios alone are of a difficulty previously unheard of, with a left hand technique making use of extensions, octaves, unprepared tenths, double and triple stopping, arpeggios and double trills.

Listen — Locatelli: Andante - Capriccio (Violin Concerto in A, Op 3 No 11)
(track 6, 4:30-5:21) ℗ 2020 BIS Records AB :

The writing also favours playing in extremely high positions. The third movement capriccio in Concerto No 11 is a prime example, with the rising broken thirds going as high as seventeenth position. Ilya Gringolts' playing is phenomenally spellbinding, and his scintillating virtuosity and flawless execution are absolute joys and wholly worthy of constant admiration. This is awesome stuff from beginning to end that leaves you breathless.

Listen — Locatelli: Allegro - Capriccio (Violin Concerto in D, Op 3 No 12)
(track 9, 12:12-13:02) ℗ 2020 BIS Records AB :

The Finnish Baroque Orchestra respond with caring sympathy to Gringolts' direction and playing. A gem of a disc to cherish and enjoy time and time again. Sonics and annotations are first-rate.

Copyright © 25 February 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta





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