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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Flute Sonatas"

ConSerto Musico

rec: July 16 - 18, 2007, Baone (Padua), Villa Beatrice d'Este
Brilliant Classics - 93703 (© 2008) (64'20")

Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778): Le Printemps de Vivaldi arrangé pour une Flūte sans accompagnement in D; Antonio VIVALDI: Sonata for transverse flute and bc in C (RV 48); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in d minor (RV 49); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor (RV 50); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in g minor (RV 51); Sonata for 2 transverse flutes and bc in G (RV 80)a; Sonata for 2 transverse flutes and bc in A (RV 800)a

Mario Folena, Stefania Marusia, transverse flute; Francesco Baroni, harpsichord; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ

Antonio Vivaldi isn't immediately associated with the transverse flute. The best-known compositions for this instrument are the six Concertos opus 10. But most of the solo parts of these concertos were originally conceived for the recorder, and it was first and foremost for commercial reasons that the scoring was changed into the then fashionable transverse flute. On the other hand, Vivaldi did compose flute parts in several works, for instance his operas.

This disc offers about everything Vivaldi has written for the transverse flute in the realm of chamber music. That is to say: the sonatas which are played here have been preserved under Vivaldi's name. But in all cases there are doubts about Vivaldi's authorship. That is referred to in the booklet, but without giving any reasons for it. In the light of this it is rather strange to open the programme notes with this sentence: "Antonio Vivaldi made a significant contribution to the development of the flute repertoire in the first half of the 18th century". In what way?

The disc opens with the Sonata in C (RV 48), and that is the sonata which is considered most likely to be written by Vivaldi. But because of the low tessitura of the flute part there are doubts as to whether this piece was originally written for the transverse flute. The Sonata in d minor (RV 49) and the Sonata in e minor (RV 50) both consist of only one fast movement, whereas the other three movements have a cantabile character, which lend them an unmistakable galant flavour. This is one of the reasons why musicologists have doubts about their authenticity. In the case of the former of the two one may add the clear French influences, which are manifest in the written-out ornamentation.

The two trio sonatas also have strong galant features. They are the only sonatas for two flutes which have been preserved under Vivaldi's name. The Sonata in A (RV 800) is, considering the RV number, probably added to the Vivaldi catalogue only recently. Both sonatas have in common that they - in contrast to the solo sonatas - are in three movements and that the two flute parts mostly move forward in parallel thirds, interspersed by short passages with imitations.

Lastly the Sonata in g minor (RV 51): again there are doubts about its authenticity. But there is quite a lot which reminds of Vivaldi, not the least because the second and third movements are arrangements of movements from Vivaldi's Sonata for violin and bc in g minor, op. 2,1 (RV 27). It is, of course, quite possible that the arrangement has been made by someone else.

The interpretations are quite good: Mario Folena produces a beautiful sound and plays with verve. He also shows a good feeling for the contrasts which characterise Vivaldi's music and the more lyrical aspectscome to the fore as well. But I have some issues with the way the basso continuo is performed. On the positive side: only a keyboard instrument is used. Too often it is taken for granted that a string bass - mostly a cello - is needed, but that is anything but certain. And it is also nice to hear sonatas without the inevitable theorbo or guitar in the basso continuo. In addition Roberto Loreggian gives a full-blooded realisation of the bass part, almost in concertante style. This fits the exuberant and theatrical style of Vivaldi's music very well. But where this disc links up with modern fashion is the change between harpsichord and organ. In slow movements the latter is mostly used, and I fail to understand why that is the case. Why shouldn't it be possible to play a slow movement with a harpsichord? In the first movement of the Sonata in C (RV 48) the performers really go too far: after about a third of the movement the harpsichord is suddenly replaced by the organ, and towards the end the reverse happens. This explains why two keyboard players are involved in this recording. Something like this can't be done by a single player. But I really don't see the reasons for this.

In the allegro assai of the same sonata I noticed several moments were the ensemble is slowing down. That increases the tension, and therefore is to be welcomed. But in the remainder of this disc I didn't notice anything like it, so its application lacks consistency.

One further aspect of this recording has to be taken notice of. The Sonatas RV 48 and 51 are preceded by preludes for flute solo, without basso continuo. In the programme notes Donato Gallo points out that this is in line with the historical practice of the ricercata, the performance of a prelude by the soloist preceding the sonata. In the recording two movements by Nicola Matteis and Silvius Leopold Weiss are used. This is rather strange as one would expect the soloist to really improvise. The choice of pieces also seems a bit odd, in particular Matteis's as he belongs to a previous generation. I wonder if Vivaldi has known his music since Matteis has lived in England since 1670. A bit inconsistent is also the fact that this practice is only applied in these two sonatas. What about the others? There was enough space on this disc to add preludes to them as well. And I also fail to see why an instrumental version of a recitative from Vivaldi's Serenata a 3 (RV 690) is added in the middle of the Sonata RV 51.

To sum up: there is enough positive to say about the playing of the artists, but the interpretation as a whole requires a certain amount of tolerance from the more petty listener. The same is true for the programme notes: they were originally written in Italian - not printed here - and translated rather clumsily in English. Sometimes it is completely unintelligible. Brilliant Classics really should do better in this regard.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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