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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "The French Connection 2"

Katy Bircher, transverse flutea; Gail Hennessy, oboeb; Peter Whelan, bassoonc; Adrian Chandler, violind
La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: Feb 8 - 11, 2011, Winchester, Hospital of St Cross
AVIE - AV 2218 (© 2011) (79'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in C (RV 473)c; Concerto for oboe, violin, strings and bc in F (RV 543)bd; Concerto for strings and bc in d minor (RV 127); Concerto for strings and bc in e minor (RV 133); Concerto for strings and bc in G (RV 150); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in d minor 'Il Gran Mogol' (RV 431a)a; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in a minor (RV 440)a; Concerto for transverse flute, 2 violins, bassoon and bc in g minor 'La Notte' (RV 104)ac; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 365)d

Vivaldi is one of the most frequently-recorded composers these days. If you want to record his music and want to avoid the beaten path, what do you do? The answer from Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima is to look at Vivaldi's music from a thematic angle. The booklet for this CD lists the discs they have made over the years. One of the themes was "Vivaldi in Arcadia", and another "Music for the Chapel of the Pietà". This disc is the second devoted to "The French Connection". This title has to be taken with a grain of salt as their is no formal connection between Vivaldi and France. He was never in the service of a French court and never wrote music at the request of some French aristocrat. Chandler rather wants to shed light on French elements in Vivaldi's music.

Everyone knows how strongly French composers of the early 18th century were under the influence of the Italian style. Music by Italian composers, and in particular by Vivaldi, was frequently performed in France, for instance in the Concert Spirituel. The influence of the French style in Italy is far less known. In his liner-notes Chandler refers to several traces of French influence in Italy, and especially in the oeuvre of Vivaldi. If there is a 'French connection' it could be a collection of concertos for strings and basso continuo which are referred to as the 'Paris' concertos. Chandler suggests that these could have been intended as a presentation set for a French nobleman.

In the booklet the French elements of every piece on the programme are listed. In particular elements of the French overture style are traceable. The second movement of the Concerto in F (RV 543) is entitled 'allegro alla francese'. The finale of this concerto is a minuet, and the Concerto in C (RV 473) even ends with a 'menuet en rondeau'. That is all very interesting, and Chandler could be right that these are deliberate references to the French style. At the same time it is quite possible that these elements had become so generally accepted that they were not experienced as specifically 'French'. How many music lovers or even composers of today think of Poland when they hear or play a polonaise? In the early 17th century Italian keyboard composers also wrote pieces 'alla francese'. But scholars can't identify exactly what is so French about them. Sometimes the connection seems rather far-fetched. According to the list the 'French connection' of the Concerto in d minor (RV 431a) is that the manuscript was written on French paper. Well...

That concerto, with the nickname Il Gran Mogol, is one of the main attractions of this disc. It was only recently discovered in Edinburgh, of all places. Not that it was entirely new. Scholars knew that it had been written, and a reworking is listed as RV 431. This version also allowed the reconstruction of the missing second violin part of the first version, which is catalogued as RV 431a and is recorded here. It was part of a series of concertos devoted to various nationalities. This one referred to the Mughal Empire (India). Other concertos have disappeared. Those with a more than average knowledge of Vivaldi's oeuvre will immediately think of another concerto, this time for violin, with the title Il Grosso Mogul. But that is an entirely different piece and has nothing in common with this flute concerto.

This piece has been recorded for the first time, and that is also the case with the Concerto in B flat (RV 365). It exists in two versions, the first of which is played here. The liner-notes don't tell whether this concerto has been recorded before in its second version. The main difference regards the last movement of which there are two; here the oldest is played. Notable in the programme is also the Concerto in F (RV 543): the French elements in the titles of the various movements have already been mentioned. It needs to be added that the two solo instruments largely play unisono, which could be a reference to the French habit of oboes playing colla parte with the violins. Remarkable is also the absence of any slow movement: there are three allegros and a closing minuet.

The most virtuosic piece is definitely the Concerto in C (RV 473) with many wide leaps and some very low notes. Vivaldi must have had a particularly skilled soloist in mind. It is remarkable anyway how many bassoon concertos he wrote, which are all quite demanding. Peter Whelan delivers a brilliant performance. The closing 'menuet en rondeau' is especially impressive. It is one of the highlights of this disc. The performances are generally quite good, even though I find them sometimes too restrained. The fast movements come off fairly well, but the slow ones are often too static, especially as long notes are mostly devoid of dynamic shading. Katy Bircher gives a fine performance of one of Vivaldi's most popular pieces, the Concerto La Notte (RV 104). She is equally convincing in the two flute concertos.

On balance, the concept of this disc, the choice of music and the performances make this an interesting contribution to the growing Vivaldi discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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