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GRAMOPHONE ( 08/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

“Tuscan” violin, made in 1690. It stands alone.’ These words, written by the London experts WE Hill & Sons in 1902, describe the Stradivarius entrusted to Fabio Biondi for this recording. So, to record on the perfect violin: is Biondi fabulous or foolhardy? Foolishly fabulous? A recording will never be the same sort of artefact as the extraordinarily beautiful one-piece back, honeyed-orange specimen housed in its glass cabinet at the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia: a recording lives and breathes, enters and mingles in our everyday lives. Which is why Biondi more than rises to the challenge. With a continuo team comprising members from his ensemble Europa Galante, Biondi performs sonatas from the early years of the existence of the ‘Tuscan’. In other words, Biondi plays on an instrument whose wood came from a tree that perhaps produced the very oxygen that Vivaldi, Corelli, Geminiani, Tartini, Locatelli and Veracini breathed while composing their scores. Biondi captures the freshness and intimacy of this sound world effortlessly. We are treated with the windswept virtuosity of Tartini’s Didone abbandonata – Biondi’s ending to the central Presto is unspeakably sexy – and the sweetest of melodies in Corelli’s Sonata Op 5 No 9. The Preludio is particularly gorgeous: Biondi’s sweet sound is perfect for Corelli; and when bathed in sumptuous continuo figurations, it is dangerously captivating. The ornamentation is thoughtful but comes across safe. His interpretation of the Ciaccona from Veracini’s Sonata Accademica is gutsier than Rachel Podger’s recent take (‘Grandissima Gravita’ – Channel Classics, 12/17), but this comes at a cost: Podger’s interpretation is unsurpassable in joyful, smiling simplicity. Occasional blemishes in intonation and precision rarely detract from this virtuoso performance.

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