Rossini: Sonate a quattro No. 1; Sonate a quattro No. 2; Sonate a quattro No. 4; Sonate a quattro No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Sonate a quattro No. 1; Sonate a quattro No. 2; Sonate a quattro No. 4; Sonate a quattro No. 5
PERFORMER: Ensemble Explorations/Roel Dieltiens
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901776
Rossini was just 12, and entirely self-taught, when he composed these engaging trifles for a friend who played the double bass – hence their unusual scoring for two violins, cello and bass. In later life Rossini dismissed the sonatas as ‘dreadful’ (orrende), but they’re good clean fun, and they even afford one or two distant glimpses of the mature composer: the dramatic recitative followed by a precociously tragic duet for violin and cello in the slow movement of the Second Sonata; or the wit with which the theme of the finale of No. 5 is played by the violin sul ponticello– near the bridge of the instrument, producing that ‘glassy’ sound which became the stock-in-trade of 20th-century composers. (But from where did the boy Rossini get the idea?)

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These are elegant, virtuoso performances, though there are times when the playing, with its liberal use of rubato, its very sustained tempi for the slow movements and its recourse to extremes of pianissimo (that sul ponticello passage is a case in point), strikes me as somewhat fussy and over-sophisticated for such unpretentious music. Don’t get me wrong: there is much to enjoy here – it’s just that a less self-consciously expressive approach would not have come amiss. Misha Donat