A century before the demonically inspired caricatures of Paganini appeared, Pietro Locatelli was already pushing the boundaries on what was possible on the violin. His landmark Opus 3 publication, subtitled “The Art of the Violin,” includes 12 concertos and 24 caprices that continue to test the mettle of all who would dare perform them. This Turtle Records album features violinist Sandrine Cantoreggi with the Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra under Carlo Jans in performances of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth concertos of Op. 3.
Surprisingly enough, it is the orchestra — not the soloist — that is of primary enjoyment on this CD. The Latvian ensemble proves that though its name may be relatively unknown to U.S. audiences, it certainly should be. Its playing is extremely precise in every domain possible — articulation, intonation, dynamics — and the recorded sound quality is exceptionally warm and full. Cantoreggi’s playing is two-sided. While playing lower in her instrument’s range and in combination with the orchestra, her sound is pleasing enough and intonation is as solid as the orchestra’s.
The solo cadenzas and capriccios, which find the violin in the stratosphere of its range, show a more strained, shrill, and out-of-tune side to Cantoreggi’s playing. Since it is this bravura demonstration that is supposed to enthrall listeners, Cantoreggi’s struggles with it to make this album a less-than-ideal choice. Others (most notably Carmignola) have shown us that it is possible to play Locatelli’s fiendish masterworks with ease and warmth.