A long time ago there was a world where people went to what were called record shops. I once went to one that had a sale with such ridiculously low-priced bargains that I came away with bagfuls of albums I might otherwise never have bought. Among them was one consisting solely of music for music for mandolin orchestra. That’s how I discovered such things exist.
I already knew that Vivaldi had composed concertos for mandolin, and I knew through a record by Dubliner John Beckett and mandolin player Hugo D'Alton that Beethoven and Hummel had composed works for mandolin and piano. Neapolitan mandolin player Raffaele La Ragione's new album stays the far side of 1800 to offer The Greatest Mandolin Concertos – by Vivaldi, Paisiello, Lecce and Hummel – and interleaves them with overtures by Galuppi, Paisiello and Haydn.
He mixes the musical palette further by using three period-style instruments with different string types and tunings. It’s an attractive formula. The light, tangy tone of the mandolin is well-adapted to jaunty, bright and breezy fast movements. And in these fine performances, the concertos by Vivaldi and Hummel show how well the instrument can be adapted to expressive slow movements, too.