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Antonio VIVALDI: "Per l'orchestra di Dresda Vol. 1"

Les Ambassadeurs
Dir: Alexis Kossenko

rec: July 7 - 9, 2012, Warsaw, Polskie Radio (Lutoslawski Studio)
Alpha - 190 (© 2013) (66'04")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for violin, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, strings and bc in F (RV 568) (with Grave for oboe, strings and bc (original version of the second movement)); Concerto for violin, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, strings and bc in F (RV 571); Concerto for violin, two oboes, two horns, cello, bassoon, strings and bc in F (RV 569); Concerto for violin, two oboes, two horns, cello, bassoon, strings and bc in F (RV 574); Concerto for violin, two oboes, two horns, cello, strings and bc in D 'per la Solennità di S. Lorenzo' (RV 562)

[soli] Anna Starr, Markus Müller, oboe; Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, horn; Zefira Valova, violin; Jane Gower, bassoon

This disc includes five works which in the Vivaldi catalogue are ranked among the concerti con molti stromenti. This can be explained by the fact that various instruments have solo episodes, especially the violins and pairs of oboes and horns. The title could suggest that these concertos were specifically written for the court orchestra in Dresden, but that is not the case. What we get here are rather concertos which the star violinist of the Dresden orchestra, Johann Georg Pisendel, collected over the years and adapted for performances in Dresden.

The chapel was considered the best orchestra of Europe. It had some of the greatest virtuosos in its ranks, not only from Germany, but also from France and Italy. As a result it was an exponent of the mixed taste which was predominant in Germany in the first quarter of the 18th century. It is interesting that apparently there was a kind of division of roles within the orchestra. The first violinist, Jean-Baptiste Volumier, directed performances of French music, whereas Pisendel, who became first violinist after Volumier's death in 1728, acted as his substitute in performances of Italian music.

There can be little doubt about Pisendel's Italian leanings. In 1716/17 he accompanied the Crown Prince, Frederick Augustus, on his Grand Tour to Italy, where he met the most brilliant violinists at that time, Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi. They gave him some of their compositions, especially sonatas for violin and basso continuo. These are all technically demanding pieces, and show that they held their German colleague in high esteem and were impressed by his technical skills. There is documented evidence that Pisendel participated in performances of concertos by Vivaldi in Venice.

He was also an avid collector of music. The archive of the court chapel in Dresden includes a number of compositions by Italian masters, among them the five concertos recorded here. Interestingly they are performed not in their original form, but rather with the adaptations and additions by Pisendel. The differences concern the ornamentation which is more extended in these adaptations. Pisendel also added or extended cadenzas and sometimes reassigned solos or changed the division between soli and tutti. In the case of the Concerto in F (RV 568) he replaced the original grave in C major (here included at the end of the programme) with a largo in C minor which he took from Vivaldi's Concerto for violin RV 202.

The scoring of these concertos is remarkable. That applies especially to the important role of the horns. The horn was a relatively new instrument which was used in France and later introduced in Germany. Its use soon spread across the country; Dresden had two of the most brilliant hornists at his disposal, Johann Adalbert Fischer and Johann Adam Franz Samm. It is no coincidence that many pieces written for the court in Dresden include parts for horns, for instance those by Johann David Heinichen. For Vivaldi these instruments were rather new when he composed the first of the concertos on this disc. It is also noteworthy that the orchestra in Dresden included contrabassoons, later called gran fagotto by the then Kapellmeister Johann Adolf Hasse. This explains the use of such an instrument in these performances.

The booklet includes lenghty liner-notes in which every piece is discussed in detail. There is no need to give a synopsis here. Just a couple of points should suffice to give an idea of what you can expect. In the Concerto in F (RV 569) we find a long pedal point in the last movement, when the whole ensemble plays in unison, from which then the violin arises for a solo. In the Concerto in F (RV 568) Pisendel extensively reworked the solo parts in both fast movements, including the insertion of new solo episodes. The manuscript even includes various versions of his ornamentation and cadenzas. It shows how much freedom a performer of his calibre took while performing music by another composer.

The Concerto in D (RV 562) has the addition per la Solennità di S. Lorenzo, referring to the feast of St Lawrence. "The feast day of Saint Lawrence was an important musical event for which a large ensemble of musicians was used, and it was still customary to honour a different violinist every year. The hypothesis that Pisendel, an illustrious and highly virtuosic visitor, was the soloist in that year of 1716 is thoroughly plausible", Alexis Kossenko states. The concerto is preserved incomplete which means that some reconstruction work had to be carried out. The third movement includes a long and virtuosic cadenza.

The Concerto in F (RV 571) is an almost litteral transcription of the concerto da camera RV 99. The third movement includes a very virtuosic solo episode to be played at high speed. In the slow movement the solo violin is accompanied by the strings alone. The Concerto in F (RV 574) seems to be the first of the concertos recorded here, and probably dates from 1714. It is especially notable for the fact that the horns are involved in the slow movement which was highly unusual at the time. In all the other concertos on this disc they are silent in the slow movements.

As one may gather from this description this is a highly interesting disc which not only sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Vivaldi's oeuvre, but especially on performance practice in Dresden. It reveals the freedom virtuosic performers took. It also bears witness to the high standard of playing in the court orchestra, by Pisendel himself, but also by the oboists and hornists. Listening to this repertoire one is not surprised that the orchestra was considered the best in Europe.

The performances by Les Ambassadeurs are admirable. The players show impressive technical skills. Zefira Valova delivers brilliant interpretations of the solo violin parts. She plays with modesty as she realises that she is not the star of the show and has to share the role of soloist with others. The players of the natural horns deserve special mention as they greatly contribute to this highly compelling recording which is definitely one of the most exciting Vivaldi discs which have been released recently.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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