Elizabeth Wallfisch

Tartini: The Devil's Trill

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Half a century ago, Giuseppe Tartini might have been the only composer of the Italian Baroque most classical music listeners could name. That was thanks to the so-called Devil's Trill, which appears as the final track on disc one of this two-disc set. Here one can experience the "trillo del Diavolo" in its proper place, as the final movement of a three-movement Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo, and within a larger slice of his output: this pairing of two previously released discs also includes a published set of violin sonatas from around the time of the Devil's Trill (around the early 1730s), and several later sonatas with a goodly degree of novelty on disc two. In a way, the rest of the music makes the Devil's Trill seem less remarkable. There's nothing elsewhere to match the double trills that gave rise to a legend that Tartini had six fingers on his left hand, but in the capable hands of violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, playing a period instrument, the level of ornamentation in much of the other music on disc one shows what a virtuoso Tartini was. Too, the music on the first disc is filled with tempo shifts and other dramatic surprises akin in spirit to the story of Tartini awakening to the Devil playing the violin at the foot of his bed. The set of sonatas on disc two conforms to the simpler structures of the by-then classic sonatas of Corelli but contains an intriguing programmatic piece of its own, the Violin Sonata in A minor "sopra lo stile che suono il Prette dallas Chitarra Portoghese" (in the style of the Portuguese priest who plays the guitar). This piece, with its vigorous Iberian accents, gives you an idea of what Domenico Scarlatti might have written if he had composed for the violin, but elsewhere one can't help but feel that where Vivaldi remade the structures of his music in response to new societal winds, Tartini settled for elaborating old models. He is ultimately a decadent composer, but he is given the best possible treatment here.

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