After graduating in violin from the Milan Conservatory Carmirelli continued there studying composition; she also graduated in chamber music from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, and later taught there herself. Winning the Paganini Prize in 1940 brought her to prominence.
Upon discovering a complete set of Boccherini’s 141 string quintets in 1949 she and her cellist husband Arturo Bonucci founded the Boccherini Quintet specifically to make this neglected music known again. With this ensemble and her Carmirelli Quartet she built a significant Boccherini specialism, both groups touring extensively and recording. Carmirelli is thus best known to us for performances of early chamber music and for an important critical edition of Boccherini’s output published by the Istituto per la storia della musica, Rome, in 1970. More recent scholarship has resulted in a further edition of Boccherini’s complete works being undertaken by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, Italy. Comparison of the two will undoubtedly reveal interesting facets of Carmirelli’s own aesthetic in performing early music in the 1970s.
Carmirelli appeared as a soloist with many leading European orchestras and in 1975 became concertmaster of I Musici, an unconducted chamber orchestra from Rome, well known in Europe and the USA. She also had a long association with pianist Rudolf Serkin, founder of the Marlboro Music School and Festival.
In Vivaldi’s D minor Concerto from L’estro armonico Carmirelli is both violin soloist and conductor. In spite of this eighteenth-century method of direction and the use of a (sometimes intrusive) harpsichord, this is really a modern performance. The opening has a toughness and largesse that can only come from steel strings and Tourte-model bows, whilst the prominent vibrato is not a Baroque trait. This 1983 performance is an unconvincing hybrid of modern habits and equipment mixed with selectively-applied elements of historical practice, but is, nonetheless, full of life and vibrancy.
Leading the Quintetto Boccherini, Carmirelli employs the same selective approach in Boccherini’s ‘L’Uccelliera’, recorded much earlier in 1955. This is rather saccharine, with over-wide high-register vibrato and a solidity of tone that is anachronistic. Nonetheless, the ensemble shapes the work with a variety of textures and colours, and the ‘bird calls’ that frame it are played with charming spontaneity by the violins.
In later repertoire Carmirelli proves to be a considered and careful interpreter in the modern international idiom of string playing familiar in the 1970s and 1980s. Her performance of Paganini’s Sonata concertata with guitarist David Starobin is tidy, controlled and articulate, with sharp staccati typical of mainstream renditions of this period. Finally, Ravel’s Tzigane (1967) shows off some powerful capabilities in a fine modern player.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)