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Having graduated with honours at fourteen from the Bilbao Conservatory and performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in concert, Spaniard Felix Ayo went on to study with René Benedetti, George Enescu and Rémy Principe, thus benefitting from several national string-playing traditions. Finding himself in Rome, he was ideally placed to join the new ensemble I Musici which he led for over fifteen years, making many concert tours and recordings. Equally successful has been his Quartetto Beethoven di Roma. Like several other artists of his time, Ayo likes to direct from the violin in Baroque and Classical repertoire with orchestra.

His discography shows an interesting tendency to specialise: it includes all twelve of Viotti’s violin sonatas (1997), the early violin works of Mendelssohn (also 1997), all the violin concertos of Tartini (1993), and works for violin and piano by Spanish late-Romantic composer Joaquín Turina (1998–2001). Ayo’s playing is mainstream in the context of his generation, defined by a prominent vibrato and the apparently deliberate pursuit of tonal beauty above all else. This is not to say that he lacks fire and direction. Turina’s Violin Sonata No. 2 is compellingly played with emotive engagement, whilst the Mendelssohn F major Sonata of 1838 delivers an exhilarating finale at a blistering tempo. Mendelssohn’s Op. 4 Sonata is suitably uncluttered, but some of the work’s Classical phrase shapes are overlooked. The Viotti sonatas are blameless renditions, even if more in the way of early Romantic violin style could be conveyed to avoid them sounding washed-out (though this is as much the composer’s responsibility as the performers’!). The Tartini concertos are more varied. Those with the Orchestra Rossini di Pesaro (in D, A and E) take a rather saccharine approach, but those performed with the Symphonia Perusina are brighter and rhythmically incisive; the slow movement of D. 56 is atmospheric and reflective, though bearing little relationship to eighteenth-century performance style.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Ayo’s discography is the pioneering 1955 Vivaldi Four Seasons, which was only the third or fourth complete issue of these concertos and furthermore marked I Musici’s recording début. Today we know their very square phrasing and heavy approach in slow movements to be anachronistic, but they are to be appreciated for their intention to promote music that has, in the half-century since, become a staple part of the repertoire.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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