Franco Gulli was one of the most prominent and active Italian violinists of the latter part of the twentieth century. He began his studies with his father (a pupil of Ševčík and Mařák at the Prague Conservatory), then went to Arrigo Serato in Siena and later to Szigeti in Switzerland. His varied and significant career included leading the Orchestra of the Pomeriggi Musicali, Milan, for several years, after which he took up a similar post with Virtuosi di Roma.
Gulli’s activities included a considerable volume of teaching and he was well-respected in this rôle, giving masterclasses all over the world and sitting on the juries of several international competitions including those in Brussels, London, Genoa, Munich, New York, and Indianapolis. He was a member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, the Accademia Cherubini, Florence, and the Reale Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, as well as holding a Professorship at Indiana University.
Marriage to pianist Enrica Cavallo cemented a renowned and long-lived duo partnership. Gulli rarely ever recorded with other pianists and, whilst he put much standard concerto repertory on disc, the recordings selected here epitomise this highly successful collaboration. Equally, they show Gulli’s innovative approach to programming and his discography also includes lesser-known and rarely-heard repertoire. This includes a fine rendition of the Brahms–Dietrich–Schumann ‘FAE’ Sonata—jointly written for the violinist Joseph Joachim—which is relatively rare on record (although, of course, Brahms’s C minor Scherzo movement is very well known on its own and a popular item in many programmes). In this 1990 recording the Scherzo is actually the least convincing movement, with an odd lack of rhythmic drive and some curiously languid rallentandi that are perhaps incongruous with Brahms’s own stylistic outlook. Otherwise Gulli’s playing has a pleasing sense of focus and well-projected brightness; an uncluttered, clean and incisive quality that shines through on all the recordings here. There is a natural affinity with Italian composers as diverse as Respighi and Vivaldi. Although in performances of the latter (such as his 1995 recording of the Concerto in C, RV556, selected here) Gulli makes few discernible concessions to period style, the precision of his sound rescues this music from the saccharine style of many other players on modern instruments in recent years, and is notably vivacious in the outer movements. The Respighi (1986) has excellent shape and space and a pleasing sense of both lightness and yet significance in a masterly grasp of this densely argued, late-Romantic work.
One of the most engaging aspects of Gulli’s artistry is a profound feeling of intellectual rigour and understanding. This certainly helps Ghedini’s 1922 Violin Sonata No. 2 (recorded in 1986) to have more structure and coherence than might otherwise be the case, with a powerful and intense sound as in the dissonant and rather angular opening. Gulli’s bright tone, relatively tight vibrato, and particularly clean, crisp attack can appear a little unrelenting in some repertoire such as Dvořák’s 4 Romantic Pieces (1985), which, in keeping with a more sensuous and lyrical style of writing, need rather more in the manner of sensitivity at times. This said, his Strauss Sonata is emotively played with a warm sound notable for its conformity to modern ideals in violin playing; although it is regrettable that Gulli avoids the portamento in this very vocal work. Overall his is a clear, commanding and authoritative voice, revealing all of these works powerfully and persuasively. His recognised status is well deserved.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)