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As a composer, Locatelli has been called the “Paganini of the 18th century.” That reputation rests on only a few works, including a set of 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin (anticipating Paganini’s Caprices by a century). Born in Bergamo, Locatelli spent his early career in Rome, following in the footsteps of Corelli.
This concerto is subtitled “The weeping of Arianna,” a reference not only to the Classical story of Ariadne and Theseus from Ovid’s Heroides, but also to the time-honored Lamento d’Arianna composed by Claudio Monteverdi in 1608, an operatic fragment that spawned many laments over the next century.
Published in 1741, the music focuses almost exclusively on the first solo violin supported by another violin, a cello, and the string orchestra. No doubt Locatelli had in mind either himself or some other accomplished virtuoso to play the solo part.
The concerto’s subtitle is illustrated in the sobbing undulations of the music that comprise the opening Andante. The energetic Allegro that follows clears the air pleasantly but ends inconclusively. It remains for the solo violin to pick up the thread in the minor mode Adagio with sorrowful phrases punctuated by repeated chords in the rest of the strings. Now something very unconventional happens: The first two sections (Andante and Allegro) are repeated almost verbatim in a lower key. Then comes a Largo with the soloist presenting a suave, sad melody interrupted near the end by brief pauses like choked sobbing.
The Andante Largo is a large two-part movement mostly for full orchestra. In both sections, the trio of soloists echoes the full orchestra in sobbing motives, but they also play longer passages, which are a charming relief from the sound of the full strings.
Entirely for the full ensemble, the third movement gives us a contrast between the old and the new. Its opening Grave is reminiscent of slow movements in Corelli. The Allegro, on the other hand, reflects the dizzying, energetic rhythms of Vivaldi, including a rugged passage for the lowest strings.
True to its subtitle, the concerto ends with a Largo movement that is mostly in a mood of lament. Several unexpected pauses interrupt the music’s flow, which is dominated by the solo violin’s melody. We are kept in a minor key until the very last chord — E-flat major — as if the composer felt obligated to give his audience a brief “happy ending.”