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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Oboe concertos

[I] "Complete Oboe Concertos"
Pier Luigi Fabretti, oboe
L'Arte dell'Arco
Dir: Federico Guglielmo
rec: Feb 1 - 3 / Sept 7 - 10 / Nov 3 - 6, 2012, Padua, Abbazia di Carceri d'Este
Brilliant Classics - 94654 (3 CDs) (© 2014) (3.01'15")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Federico Guglielmo, Carlo Lazari, Elisa Imbalzano, violin; Mario Paladin, viola; Luigi Puxeddu, cello; Franco Catalini, violone; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Vivaldi e l'angelo di Avorio, Vol. II - The European Journey"
Simone Toni, oboea
Silete Venti!
Dir: Simone Toni
rec: Oct 2 - 6, 2013, Milan, Chiesa di San Marco (sactristy)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88843046872 (© 2014) (58'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover & track-list

Lathika Vithanage, Mauro Massa, violin; Elena Confortini, viola; Carlo Sgarro, violone, double bass; Simone Vallerotonda, theorbo, guitar; Davide Pozzi, harpsichord, organ

Concerto in C (RV 184)a; Concerto in C (RV 446); Concerto in C (RV 447); Concerto in C 'per fagotto accomodato per hautboy' (RV 448); Concerto in C, op. 8,12 (RV 449)a; Concerto in C 'per fagotto ridotto per hautboy' (RV 450); Concerto in C (RV 451); Concerto in C (RV 452)a; Concerto in D (RV 453); Concerto in d minor, op. 8,9 (RV 454)a; Concerto in F 'per Sassonia' (RV 455)a; Concerto in F 'Harmonia mundi' (RV 456)a; Concerto in F 'per fagotto ridotto per hautboy' (RV 457); Concerto in F (RV 458); Concerto in g minor (RV 459); Concerto in g minor, op. 11,6 (RV 460)a; Concerto in a minor (RV 461); Concerto in a minor (RV 462); Concerto in a minor 'per fagotto ridotto per hautboy' (RV 463); Concerto in B flat, op. 7,7 (RV 464); Concerto in B flat, op. 7,1(KV 465)


The largest part of Antonio Vivaldi's instrumental output comprises solo concertos. By far the most numerous - more than 230 - are for violin, his own instrument. The second largest category constitutes concertos for bassoon: 31. By comparison the number of oboe concertos is modest: 21. Moreover, some of them are of dubious authenticity. Even so, in Brilliant Classics' complete recording they are included as it is hard to establish whether they are indeed from another pen than Vivaldi's, and because there are mostly no other candidates for their authorship. On the other hand, Vivaldi also composed some double concertos for two oboes or for oboe and violin (which are omitted from this set), and gave the oboe significant parts in concertos for various instruments.

The oboe was invented in France in the mid-17th century. Jean-Baptiste Lully first used it in 1657 in his ballet L'amour malade. It was an early form of the instrument which in the ensuing decades was further developed by members of the Hotteterre and Philidor families who were associated with the court. Louis XIV employed a group of twelve oboists, called Les Douze Grands Hautbois. In the last decades of the 17th century the oboe made its appearance in other countries. There were several reasons for that. First of all, everything French exerted a strong attraction on aristocrats across the continent and soon oboes made their entrance in court chapels. The second reason was that the revocation of the Edict of Nantes forced many musicians to leave France. This explains why oboists in many chapels in Germany were of French origin.

In Italy the oboe made a relatively late appearance. Before 1700 it was only sporadically used. It was no earlier than 1698 that the chapel of San Marco in Venice dismissed its last cornett player. His place was taken by Onofrio Penati, who was a virtuoso on the oboe, and was paid the highest salary of the entire orchestra. Venice wasn't only the place where the oboe was introduced, it also played a key role in its diffusion in Italy. It seems likely that Vivaldi wrote some of his concertos for this new instrument for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà. One of them developed into a celebrity, a certain Pellegrina, nicknamed dall'Oboe. However, the Italians were still heavily dependent on influences from the other side of the Alps. The first oboe teacher at the Ospedale, for instance, was Ignazio Rion, who was probably of French origin. Another notable player of the oboe was the German Ludwig Erdmann.

The first composer who gave the oboe full attention was Tomaso Albinoni. In 1715 he published his op. 7 which included twelve concertos for strings, four of which with one and four with two oboe parts. It is notable that he called them Concerti a cinque con violini, oboè, violetta, violoncello e basso continuo. The various parts are treated on equal footing, and the oboe is not singled out as a solo instrument. It is mostly impossible to put a date on Vivaldi's compositions, but Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot has pointed out that his earliest oboe concertos are of that same type. Only in later stages is the oboe given a real solo role, in which it is supported by basso continuo alone in solo episodes.

The first disc here includes the oboe concertos which were published during Vivaldi's lifetime. Two concertos are part of the op. 8, which also includes the famous Four Seasons violin concertos. The Concerto No. 9 in d minor (RV 454) was first conceived as an oboe concerto and later reworked for violin, whereas the Concerto No. 12 in C (RV 449) was first written as a violin concerto and then reworked for oboe. Two concertos are from op. 7, a set of twelve Concerti a 5 stromenti which was published by Roger in Amsterdam in 1720. He had also published Albinoni's concertos and it has been suggested that with this collection he wanted to milk the success of Albinoni's set. It seems that the concertos with oboe parts are spurious, and that not only includes the concertos RV 465 and RV 464 recorded here but also the two oboe parts in the Concerto No. 10. The Concerto in g minor (RV 460) is from a set of six concertos op. 11, again published in Amsterdam in 1729; the other concertos in that set are for violin. The Concerto in F (RV 456) is from a collection of six concertos for various scorings which was published by Walsh in London in 1726; its authenticity is dubious.

The second disc comprises seven concertos from the Turin manuscript; these were once part of the composer's own personal archive and because of that there is no doubt about their authenticity. Four of these are also known in versions for bassoon: RV 448, 450, 457 and 463. The additions - per fagotto ridotto or accomodato per hautboy - indicate that the bassoon versions came first.

The opening of the Concerto in C (RV 448) returns as the opening of the Concerto in C (RV 447) which is included on the third disc. This is largely devoted to concertos which have been preserved in manuscript in various archives across Europe (the exception is RV 447 which is again from the Turin manuscript) - hence the title of this disc in the track-list: "The European Collections". Three are from Lund, one from Uppsala, both in Sweden, and the remaining two concertos are from Dresden and Wiesentheid respectively. In Ryom's catalogue of Vivaldi's works the Dresden concerto (RV 184) is ranked among the violin concertos but it is now thought to be intended for the oboe as the tessitura of the solo part is rather limited and suits the oboe much better than the violin. The Concerto in g minor (RV 459) has been preserved in the library of the German count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid. It has come down to us as a fragment: the third movement is missing. The manuscript also includes many obvious errors. These have been corrected here, and the first movement is repeated after the adagio. This is another concerto whose authenticity is doubtful.

There will certainly be good reasons to doubt a piece's authenticity; however, the assessment sometimes changes with time. That is partly due to the discovery of new sources or to a more thorough understanding of a composer's style. Without contending that Vivaldi repeated himself every time he composed a concerto it is unmistakable that many have some features which make them easily recognizable as being from his pen. If one listens to the concertos from the op. 7 which I mentioned one can easily understand that their authenticity is questioned. However, the second disc also includes pieces which are different from what one may expect. There are some strong differences between the concertos RV 453 and RV 463, the two first items on that disc.

The best thing to do is to enjoy these concertos as they come - authentic or not. The fact that they are possibly not from Vivaldi's pen doesn't diminish their quality, and one can only be thankful to the interpreters that they have decided to include them in this first complete recording of Vivaldi's oboe concertos. Certainly 'authentic' is the way they are performed. Pier Luigi Fabretti is a renowed player of the baroque oboe and has been a member of various top-class orchestras, such as Concerto Köln and Les Arts Florissants. He more than lives up to his reputation and his performances here are lively and technically assured. I admire his extensive ornamentation especially in the slow movements. In the fast movements Vivaldi the opera composer is never far away, and that is not only exposed in the solo part but also in the way the tuttis are played by L'Arte dell'Arco.

After having written the review of the complete set I received a disc which includes a selection of seven concertos, performed by Simone Toni who also directs the ensemble Silente Venti! He confines himself here (*) to concertos whose authenticity is not questioned, except the Concerto in F (RV 456) mentioned above. Silenete Venti! also plays with one instrument per part, but there is one significant difference: the scoring of the basso continuo. Alongside harpsichord or organ we hear two plucked instruments, a theorbo and a guitar. They play in different combinations, but sometimes together and that gives them a strong presence. At various moments too much, especially as the organ is producing mostly a strong sound - I had to look in the booklet to see whether it was really a organ positive rather than a large church organ. The plucked instruments are sometimes used as a kind of percussion. In the last movement from the Concerto in F (RV 455) it seems as if we listen to a plucked orchestra. It is even more extreme in the last movement from the Concerto in C (RV 449) which closes the programme. In the opening movement from the Concerto in F (RV 456) the organ overshadows the strings in some passages where they play in unison.

The disc opens with the Concerto in d minor (RV 454) whose first movement reveals the good and the bad of this recording. Among the good are the lively playing and the liberties in the treatment of the tempo. Some rallentandi effectively increase the tension but unfortunately this interpretational device is not applied with any consistency. Among the bad is the acridity which is the effect of the very fast tempo. This movement is pretty extreme: the oboe is not able to produce a real tone, only short staccato notes. Elsewhere it isn't that bad, but there are some other movements as well where Toni seems to lose his breath due to the fast tempo.

I don't want to give the impression that this is a bad recording. But unfortunately it is the victim of exaggeration and suffers from the habit of some Italian ensembles to do too much. It is also questionable whether plucked instruments should participate in performances of concertos and other music for instrumental ensemble. Here they have too much presence. Lastly, I had to get used to the acoustic of the venue where this recording was made. The Brilliant Classics recording is more satisfying and has a more natural ambience.

(*) This is in fact the second disc in a series of three with Vivaldi's oboe concertos. The first haven't heard; the third has been released only recently.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Silete Venti!

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