Back in the 1950s the Italian string ensemble I Musici became one of the great brand names of classical music thanks to the international popularity of new vinyl LP records -- I Musici played a major role in making Vivaldi's ''The Four Seasons" as popular as it remains today. It has recorded the piece six times.
The group first appeared for the
The group offered half a program of Mozart, with British pianist Stephen Hough as soloist in the Piano Concerto in E-flat, K. 449. This was Hough's most convincing New England solo appearance to date; he played with dapper aplomb, elegant phrasing, and a lovely, almost-vocal, quality of tone. The Italian string players, all male in the current configuration, provided something more than a mere backdrop, and then gave a lively large-scale account of the ''Serenata notturna," which sounded industrial strength, although there were only 12 players.
The first half was devoted to Italian music. Rossini was represented by both ends of his career, a tuneful Sonata for Strings that he composed at 12 and four charming little pieces that he composed late in life and called ''Sins of My Old Age." These were arranged by I Musici cellist Vito Paternoster as a mini-concerto with himself as a witty soloist. ''Figaro!" by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (the composition teacher of Andre Previn and John Williams) is a nifty arrangement of Figaro's famous aria from ''The Barber of Seville" for viola and strings. Silvio Di Rocco played it with dash, and one of the violinists momentarily burst into baritone song. Violinist Antonio Anselmi, looking by far the youngest member of the ensemble, was a brilliant soloist in Paganini's Variations on ''Carnival of Venice." His below-the-shoulder hair made him look a little like photographs of Paganini himself, and he tore through all the daredevil stunts with an acrobat's balance and bravado.
I Musici's program bio said its approach has been ''unchanging" for half a century, which is true. The celebrated energy, discipline, tonal glow remain, but more than half a century on, the style seems to have emerged from a time capsule. Still, for these musicians it is authentic.