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Audiophilia, June 2011

Just as Florence was the epicentre of Renaissance art, so Venice stood at the crossroads of Baroque music. This disc combines works from three groups of composers—those born and bred in La Serenissima (Albinoni, Caldara and Marcello…Vivaldi an obvious omission); other Italians who spent extended periods of their careers there (Porpora, Gasparini); and foreigners who drew inspiration and success from their time in the city (Handel, Hasse). The motivation behind the selection of music is less clear; an eclectic mix of concerti, operatic sinfonias/overtures and other fragments, almost all of it relatively obscure. This is a good thing—avoiding the temptation to churn out another “greatest hits” type compilation, instead a diverse range of sources and styles have been melded into a very cohesive whole; one that encourages and rewards repeated listening. For me, a particular treat is the inclusion of two trio sonatas by Porpora, whose instrumental compositions stand very much in the shadow of his operatic success, here presented in a wonderful orchestral adaptation.

The combination of a small, audiophile-oriented European label and a youthful, hardcore period instrument ensemble (particularly one from Italy!) is generally a successful formula, and this is no exception. I’ve not encountered Divox before, and the website was unenlightening, but their hi-tech 24/192 recording process has resulted in superb sound quality from this CD, bringing the richness of tonal colour and texture from these antique instruments to the fore with startling presence. I Virtuosi Delle Muse play with fire and passion, and including the little-known tenor viola in their ranks gives the sound a gorgeously rich, weighty ‘brownness’! This is joyously uninhibited music-making, an irresistible 70-minute celebration of the Baroque.

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