A new release from the Irish Baroque Orchestra called Concerti Bizarri features an assortment of concertos by a circle of composers all born within a few years of one another. Violinist and director Monica Huggett leads, but there are no solo violin concertos. Instead, the program is heavily weighted toward instruments less often on exhibit in solo roles, as well as instruments in unusual combinations.
Central to the program is the concerto for two cellos by the widely accepted ringleader of the mature baroque concerto form, Antonio Vivaldi.
Vivaldi is the lone Italian on this program, and is, for the remainder of the disc, surrounded on all sides by a crowd of German composers including Heinichen, Fasch, Telemann and Graupner. Germany was, after all, a hotbed of enthusiasm for Vivaldi’s concertos!
Out of the seven concertos that make up this disc, 5 are for multiple instruments. The other two are two solo concertos–one by Heinichen for oboe, and the other a bassoon concerto by Graupner. These both shine. But how often do you get to hear a concerto for 2 Oboes da caccia, 2 Violas, and 2 Bassoons?
The surviving autograph score for Fasch’s G major Chamber Concerto calls the tenor range caccias “hautbois du silve” and a scribbled out line over the designation “calcedon” indicates that Fasch may have originally had two bass lutes rather than two bassoons in mind for the part.
Concerti Bizzari closes with a lovely concerto by Graupner for flute d’amore, oboe d’amore and viola d’amore. The viola d’amore, is a 6- or 7-stringed instrument with additional sympathetic strings that is held and played up on the shoulder like a violin. Vivaldi wrote eight concertos for the viola d’amore, and Bach wrote for the instrument in his John Passion. Bach wrote even more commonly for the oboe d’amore in many of his cantatas. The oboe d’amore is a little larger than the regular oboe, sounds a minor third lower, and has a bulb shaped bell. But the flute d’amore is the big question mark here. Even Quantz, in his influential 18th century treatise On Playing the Flute had little to say about what he simply calls an “uncommon” instrument. As there are scant examples of any surviving original flutes d’amore, we’re left with more questions than answers. In the case of the Graupner triple concerto, the flute d’amore part fits comfortably on the regular traverso without any adaptations.
There is something new around every bend on this recording and fun listening to hear each soloist from the Irish Baroque Orchestra in turn.