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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Violin concertos & Concertos for strings

[I] "La Venezia di Anna Maria"
Midori Seiler, violina
Concerto Köln
rec: Jan 21 - 23 & Oct 23 - 27, 2017, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
Berlin Classics - 0301052BC (© 2018) (1.22'40")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Concerto a 5 in B flar, op. 10,1; Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785): Concerto a 4 No. 1 in g minor; Antonio VIVALDI: Concerto for strings and bc in c minor (RV 120); Concerto for strings and bc in A (RV 158); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in d minor (RV 248)a; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E 'Il Riposo per il Santissmo Natale' (RV 270a)a; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E flat (RV 260)a; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in G (RV 308)a; Sinfonia for strings and bc in F (RV 140)

Leonard Schelb, Manfredo Zimmermann, transverse flute; Daniel Lanthier, Kristin Linde, oboe; Philippe Castejon, chalumeau; Lorenzo Alpert, bassoon; Mayumi Hirasaki, Markus Hoffmann, Sylvie Kraus, Steohan Sänger, Jörg Buschhaus, Frauke Pohl, Antje Engel, Hedwig van der Linde, violin; Aino Hildebrandt, Claudia Steeb, Gabrielle Kancachian, Johannes Platz, viola; Werner Matzke, Ulrike Schaar, Jan Kunkel, Alexander Scherf, cello; Margit Schultheiss, Johanna Seitz, harp; Michael Dücker, lute; Christoph Anselm Noll, harpsichord

[II] "Concerti di Parigi"
Il delirio fantastico
Dir: Vincent Bernhardt
rec: Oct 12 - 14, 2015, Bellancourt, Eglise Saint-Martin
Calliope - CAL1740 (© 2017) (66'15")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for strings and bc in C (RV 114); Concerto for strings and bc in c minor (RV 119); Concerto for strings and bc in D (RV 121); 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 F (RV 136); Concerto for strings and bc in G (RV 150); Concerto for strings and bc in g minor (RV 154); Concerto for strings and bc in g minor (RV 157); Concerto for strings and bc in A (RV 159); Concerto for strings and bc in A (RV 160); Concerto for strings and bc in B flat (RV 164)

Reynier Guerrero, Sayaka Shinoda, Ramses Puente Matos, Amandine Bernhardt, Lina Manrique, Jorlen Vega, violin; Aurélie Metivier, Samuel Hengebaert, viola; Gulrim Choï, Cyril Poulet, cello; Yuval Atlas, double bass; Ulrik Gaston Larsen, theorbo, guitar; Adrien Pièce, harpsichord


Antonio Vivaldi was one of the great violin virtuosos of his time. One may assume that many of his violin concertos were written for his own use. However, he was also sought after for commissions, and many concertos for instruments he did not play himself, such as the cello, the oboe and the bassoon, were written for aristocratic dilettantes or members of their chapels. Often we don't know the dedicatees of his concertos, nor most of the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, for whom he also wrote many concertos. There are a couple of exceptions, such as Pellegrina dell'Oboe and Anna Maria dal Violin. As they were orphans, they had no last name, and were usually called after the instrument they played. We know very little about them, nor do we know what they looked like. Even the many visitors who came to listen to their performances at concerts and in church could not see them, as they played behind an iron grille. That did not prevent them from becoming celebrities, who were not only known in Venice, but even beyond the borders of the city and of Italy.

The skills of Anna Maria come to the fore in a unique manuscript: a part-book in her own handwriting, including 31 concertos. The names of the composers are not mentioned, but Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot assumes that 25 are by Vivaldi. One of them is the Concerto in C (RV 581), which is notable for its slow movement, as the part-book contains the ornaments which are either written out by Anna Maria or by Vivaldi himself. This piece is not included in the recording by Midori Seiler and Concerto Köln. Instead we get four other concertos which are also in the part-book. In the case of the Concerto in E (RV 270a), with the nickname Il Riposo per la Santissima Natale, Seiler plays the slow movement in a version, which is derived from Anna Maria's part-book.

A further feature of these performances needs to be mentioned. In nearly all violin concertos the tutti are scored for strings and basso continuo. In these performances they are often joined by winds: the list of instruments includes two transverse flutes, two oboes, a chalumeau and a bassoon. In the booklet Midori Seiler is quoted as stating that "Vivaldi broadened his compositional repertoire while employed at the Ospedale. Access to a competent instrumental ensemble comprising not just violins but also wind instruments including oboes, flutes, recorders and chalumeaux allowed him to experiment with a variety of instrumental formations". According to the liner-notes it was common practice at the time to incorporate the wind instruments that were available. The documented fact that in Corelli's time his concerti grossi were sometimes performed with additional winds, seems to support this view. In several concertos or in single movements from concertos wind instruments play colla parte with the strings in the ritornelli.

The same happens in the concerti for strings, often called ripieno concertos by Vivaldi. They constitute a quite popular part of Vivaldi's output, and are often played as 'fillers' in programmes of larger works, because of their succinctness. Through the addition of winds they receive a different dimension, and this way these performances offer a worthwhile alternative to the recordings which are already available.

Two other composers are included here with comparable pieces. Both Baldassare Galuppi's Concerto a 4 in g minor and Tomaso Albinoni's Concerto a 5 in B flat are for strings and basso continuo, without any solo passages. They represent two different stylistic periods. Albinoni is a representative of the style which was common before Vivaldi and is close to Corelli. The writing is five parts is a relic of the 17th century. However, the Concerto in B flat is in three movements, which shows the influence of Vivaldi. Galuppi's Concerto in g minor is written in a modern galant idiom. The order of the movements reflects the custom of the mid-18th century: slow, fast, fast.

Anna Maria dal Violin may not be known with a last name, and we may know little about her, but these concertos bear witness to her great skills, which inspired Vivaldi to some of his finest concertos. It was a great idea of Midori Seiler to devote a recording to this brilliant player, who lived all her life at the orphanage and died in 1782, when she was in her 80s. Seiler is an equally brilliant violinist, who brings Vivaldi's music and Anna Maria's skills to light. She delivers technically immaculate and musically captivating performances, avoiding the excesses some of her Italian colleagues are guilty of. She receives excellent support from Concerto Köln. The participation of winds offers an interesting perspective on Vivaldi's works that are scored for strings. This aspect of performance practice deserves to be further investigated; that could well result in different performances of music that is already well-known.

The second recording is then entirely devoted to the genre which we have met in Midori Seiler's recording: the ripieno concerto. Vivaldi's oeuvre includes around 40 of such concertos. To that number we can add pieces for the same scoring that are called sinfonia; these two descriptions are more or less exchangeable, as some pieces are called sinfonia in one source and concerto in another. The ensemble Il delirio fantastico focuses on twelve concertos, which form a set and are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They were probably put together for Count Jacques-Vincent Languet de Gergy, French ambassador in Venice and an important patron of Vivaldi in the 1720s. It was also at his instigation that Vivaldi wrote the serenata La Senna Festeggiante. The expression "put together" has been chosen here deliberately, as these compositions seem not to be especially written for the Count, but rather assembled from previously-written pieces. However, Vivaldi did pay homage to the French style in two concertos. These pieces only appear in the Paris manuscript, whereas the remaining ten concertos also exist in autograph copies in Turin.

The ensemble does not perform these concertos as they appear in the Paris manuscript, with the exception of the two 'new' concertos, but in the original versions in Turin. "These original Torino [Turin] versions, are those presented in this recording, the shortened copies of the Paris manuscript, having important music sections missing. Nevertheless, Vivaldi is not necessarily responsible himself for the alterations, the French compilation having been done by a copyist", Vincent Bernhardt states in his liner-notes. Federico Maria Sardelli, in the liner-notes to his recording (Tactus, 2005), has a different view. "From a careful comparison of the Paris manuscript with Vivaldi’s autograph copies, it becomes clear that the amended version of the Turin concertos was the source used by the copyist for the compilation of the collection. Thus, if one excludes concertos n. 2 and 5 for which the autograph copy is lost, the Parisian version is virtually identical to the autographs." As I don't own Sardelli's recording, I can't compare the performances. But from the liner-notes I have to conclude that they are not exactly the same. In a way that is a good thing, as this means that they are not so much competitive but complementary. That said, announcing the concertos under the title Concerti di Parigi and then playing the versions which are not part of the Paris set, is a bit odd. Moreover, all of these pieces are available in other recordings of Vivaldi's ripieno concertos, and most of them are probably based on the Turin autographs as well. From that perspective this disc has nothing really new to offer.

Fortunately the performances are pretty good. I have certainly enjoyed the playing of this fine ensemble. However, I feel that the fast movements often could have been played a little faster, creating a stronger contrast with the slow movements. The latter are mostly very satisfying, and played with the right amount of pathos. However, two middle movements are described as andantes, and these could have been played a little faster.

Overall, Vivaldi lovers may well consider adding this disc to their collection. It is certainly nice to have these concertos in one performance.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Midori Seiler
Concerto Köln
Il delirio fantastico

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