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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Solo and trio sonatas

[I] "Trio Sonatas Op. 1"
L'Arte dell'Arco
Dir: Federico Guglielmo
rec: March 12 -16, 2012, Carceri (PD), Abbazia di Santa Maria
Brilliant Classics - 94784 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (1.27'05")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata in g minor, op. 1,1 (RV 73); Sonata in e minor, op. 1,2 (RV 67); Sonata in C, op. 1,3 (RV 61); Sonata in E, op. 1,4 (RV 66); Sonata in F, op. 1,5 (RV 69); Sonata in D, op. 1,6 (RV 62); Sonata in E flat, op. 1,7 (RV 65); Sonata in d minor, op. 1,8 (RV 64); Sonata in A, op. 1,9 (RV 75); Sonata in B flat, op. 1,10 (RV 78); Sonata in b minor, op. 1,11 (RV 79); Sonata in d minor, op. 1,12 'Follia' (RV 63)

Federico Guglielmo, Glauco Bertagnin, violin; Francesco Galligioni, cello; Ivano Zanenghi, theorbo; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Opera Quinta - VI Sonate"
Baltic Baroque
rec: 2011 - 2014, Viimsi, [St Jacob's Church]; Tallinn, [House of the Blackheads], [St Michael's Church]
Estonian Record Productions - ERP7214 (© 2014) (44'20")
Liner-notes: E/R/Est
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata for violin and bc in F, op. 5,1 (RV 18)a; Sonata for violin and bc in A, op. 5,2 (RV 30)b; Sonata for violin and bc in B flat, op. 5,3 (RV 33)c; Sonata for violin and bc in b, op. 5,4 (RV 35)d; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in B flat, op. 5,5 (RV 76)e; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in g minor, op. 5,6 (RV 72)f

Anfisa Kalininab, Maria Krestinskayaacef, Evgeny Sviridovdef, violin; Sofia Maltizova, cello; Imbi Tarumacdef, Reinut Teppb, harpsichord

In 1681 Arcangelo Corelli published his first collection of trio sonatas which were to be followed by three further sets of twelve sonatas each. These came from the press in 1685, 1689 and 1694 respectively. They were enthusiastically embraced by the music lovers and amateur performers at the time. It is telling that the Venetian music printer Giuseppe Sala reprinted all of these collections some years after their first appearance. The influence of Corelli's sonatas was such that almost any composer of later generations felt obliged to show his skills in trio sonatas of his own. A set of trio sonatas was often a composer's first publication of music from his pen. Examples are the trio sonatas by Albinoni, Bonporti and Caldara.

Vivaldi was another who decided that he should show the music world what he was capable of by publishing a collection of trio sonatas. It was the above-mentioned music printer Sala who published Vivaldi's twelve trio sonatas op. 1 in 1705. This edition has only partly survived; today's performers rely on a reprint by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam which dates from around 1715. However, it is assumed that the 1705 edition was in fact a reprint as well. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot argues that the title page doesn't mention the fact that the composer was teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà whereas Vivaldi otherwise didn't miss any opportunity to tell that he was somebody in the music scene. Therefore the first edition could have been from 1703 and may have been published shortly before Vivaldi had been appointed in his post at the Ospedale in September of that year.

Corelli's trio sonatas can be divided into two genres: the sonata da chiesa, comprising four movements with tempo indications like adagio, andante and allegro, and the sonata da camera which opened with a preludio and continued with three dances. Most composers started with a set of sonate da chiesa, probably because these were dominated by counterpoint - the second movement was always a fugue - and allowed them to show their skills in this department. In the early decades of the 18th century the mastery of counterpoint was still a bench-mark for any up-and-coming composer. It is probably Vivaldi's wilfulness which made him decide to start with a set of sonate da camera. They usually consist of four movements. The exceptions are the Sonata I in g minor and the Sonata IV in E which have five and the Sonata X in B flat which has three.

Scholars have noted that Vivaldi's trio sonatas show some immaturity. That could be the reason that in our time they are not that often performed and recorded. It seems that in Vivaldi's time they didn't find a wide dissemination. It has also been suggested that the composer himself didn't rate them very highly as he hardly ever borrowed from them. Maybe he even didn't like the very form of the trio sonata as after 1710 he seldom returned to it.

Whatever one may think of these trio sonatas they make for good listening for about 90 minutes or so, certainly if they are played so well as here by L'Arte dell'Arco. They deliver sparkling performances which are technically assured. There are two issues which need to be mentioned. Firstly, in several sonatas Roberto Loreggian changes the keyboard, from organ to harpsichord or vice versa. This is common practice these days, but I really don't see the need. It tends to damage the coherence of a piece. Secondly, I would like ensembles not to use plucked instruments as percussion; here it is almost inevitably used that way in the Follia variations. Again, I can't see a good reason for this practice. One of the features of L'Arte del'Arco's playing is a great rhythmic precision, and that is exactly the reason why percussionistic effects are superfluous.

Even so, if you love baroque string music and/or Vivaldi you should add this opus to your collection in this fine performance which comes at budget price.

Not all of Vivaldi's compositions can be dated. That makes it difficult to be sure how often Vivaldi turned to the form of the trio sonata again. In 1716 Le Cène in Amsterdam published a set of six sonatas as the op. 5. It included four sonatas for violin and bc and two trio sonatas. However, the date of publication doesn't imply that they were written after the op. 1. It is quite possible that they were a carry-over, and Vivaldi wanted to publish them because trio sonatas remained very popular among amateurs. The trio sonatas RV 72 and 76 are again of the da camera type; both comprise three movements in the order slow-fast-fast.

Their inclusion indicates that this collection was aimed at the amateur market. This implies that the solo sonatas are not among the most technically complicated from Vivaldi's pen. That said, they are anything but easy and that tells us something about the capabilities of the musical amateurs of those days.

Two of the sonatas are in three movements: the Sonata in A (RV 30) and the Sonata in b minor (RV 35); the other two are in four movements. All the four sonatas follow again the pattern of the sonata da camera: they open with a preludio which is followed by dances in various combinations: allemanda, corrente, sarabanda, giga and gavotta. Every movement has also a tempo indication. Some of these tempi maybe a little surprising. One expects an allemanda being a little slower than an corrente, but in the Sonata in B flat (RV 33) both have the tempo indication allegro. Although this tells more about their character than their tempo one also should be aware that Italian dances not always have the same tempo as we know them from, for instance, Bach, as Anna Bulycheva rightly observes in the booklet. The Sonata in F (RV 18) includes a sarabanda which has the tempo indication andante which is modestly fast rather than slow, whereas in German music the sarabande was usually the slowest part of a suite.

The ensemble Baltic Baroque has recorded three discs of music by Vivaldi which have been reviewed on this site. I have rated them highly and there is every reason to do the same with the present disc. The members of this ensemble may be not that well-known outside their own country but they are in no way inferior to, for instance, their Italian colleagues of more renowned ensembles. They show a lot of temperament and passion in their performances and that suits these sonatas well. Only once - in the allemanda from the Sonata in B flat - I felt that the pace and the strong dynamic accents have a damaging effect on the beauty of the sound. The latter is a factor which should certainly not be ignored.

But that is only a small blot on an otherwise impressive recording in which technical assurance goes hand in hand with musical expression.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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