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CD reviews

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Sonatas for strings

[I] "The World Premiere Recordings - Vivaldi Violin Sonatas"
Baltic Baroque
Dir: Grigori Maltizov
rec: 2011 & 2012, Viimsi, St Jacob's Church & Tallinn, House of the Blackheads
Estonian Record Productions - ERP 6613 (65'43")
Liner-notes: E/Est/R
Cover & track-list

Sinfonia for violin and bc in b minor (RV 35a)d; Sonata for violin and bc in D (RV 785)c; Sonata for violin and bc in d minor (RV 13)c; Sonata for violin and bc in G (RV 24)b; Sonata for violin and bc in G (RV 776)b; Sonata for violin and bc in B flat (RV 809)a

Maria Katarzhnovaa, Maria Krestinskayab, Andrey Reshetinc, Jevgeny Sviridovd, violin; Sofia Maltizova, cello; Imbi Tarum, harpsichord

[II] "Senza Basso"
Baltic Baroque
Dir: Grigori Maltizov
rec: 2013, Tallinn, House of the Blackheads
Estonian Record Productions - ERP 6713 (46'16")
Liner-notes: E/Est/R
Cover & track-list

Sonata for 2 violins and bc ad lib in F (RV 68)e; Sonata for 2 violins and bc ad lib in F (RV 70)e; Sonata for 2 violins and bc ad lib in G (RV 71); Sonata for 2 violins and bc ad lib in B flat (RV 77)

Maria Krestinskaya, Jevgeny Sviridov, violin; Imbi Tarum, harpsichorde

In the 18th century it was the fate of famous composers that compositions by others were published under their name. The more famous they were the more such pieces were printed. It was mostly the work of unscrupulous publishers who looked to increase sales by putting a famous name on their editions. These were aimed at the market of amateurs which grew fast during the century. Antonio Vivaldi was one of the victims of these practices. This explains that the sonatas which Baltic Baroque has recorded on the disc "The World Premiere Recordings" have never been recorded before. Most of them are spurious, of doubtful authenticity or are attributed to other composers as a result of musicological research. That doesn't make them any less worthwhile, but it results in them being overlooked. In this respect our time is not that different from Vivaldi's: if a piece is authenticated as a work of a famous composer it suddenly attracts the interest of performers which previously didn't bother to play it.

The Sonata in d minor (RV 13) is also attributed to the Swedish composer Johann Helmich Roman. In her liner-notes Anna Bulycheva states that this sonata's technical brilliance is one of the reasons that it was included in the Vivaldi catalogue. This shows one of the reasons it is often difficult to be sure who has written a specific composition: not only were pieces sometimes published under the name of a famous composer, but such a master also was imitated by others, and the fact that a piece sounds like Vivaldi doesn't imply it was indeed written by him. Another example of such a work is the Sonata in D (RV 785). It was known as an incomplete copy and was included in the list of unfinished compositions by Vivaldi. But in 2006 the same piece was discovered in the collection of sonatas op. 1 by Andrea Zani (1696-1757) and it is assumed that this edition is older than the unfinished copy. In his early years Zani was an admirer of Vivaldi and only later moved away from the style of his hero. It is the most remarkable piece of this disc because of the chromaticism in the largo and the last movement which is a series of twelve variations with the indication capricio andante e cantabile.

The Sonata in C (RV 809) has come down to us as a sonata for transverse flute and bc with the inscription "Del Sig. Vivaldi". Baltic Baroque's director, Grigori Maltizov, discovered a copy of this sonata in the key of B flat in a hand-written collection of twelve violin sonatas by Gaetano Meneghetti. He lived in Vicenza, a city about 60 kilometers west of Venice and stylistically there are clear similarities. However, Anna Bulycheva points out that in his sonatas counterpoint plays a more important role than in Vivaldi's and that the sonatas from this collection "are clearly composed by one and the same hand and not the one of Vivaldi". The Sonata in G (RV 24) was included by Peter Ryom in his catalogue of Vivaldi's works, but he added that it is probably spurious; he does not suggest an alternative name.

The two remaining sonatas are authentic, but hve survived in various versions. The Sonata in b minor (RV 35) was part of the sonatas op. 5, but Vivaldi made some changes in the original concept. Here we hear the original version, the Sinfonia in b minor (RV 35a). It is an example of a piece which was adapted to current fashion: the first movement was changed from an adagio into a prelude with the tempo indication largo in the form of the then popular menuet. Vivaldi also added trills and changed the harmony. The Sonata in G (RV 776) exists in two versions, both of which have one slow movement which is identical with one of the movements from the Sonata in G (RV 22). Here Baltic Baroque decided to play it in a third version, as it were: only those movements from both sonatas are performed which are not identical with movements from RV 22. This practice seems a little questionable.

That is only a very minor blot on a great disc. Not only is this music worthwhile, the performances are also outstanding. The capriccio with variations from the Sonata in D (RV 785) is one of the highlights. It really doesn't matter who composed it - it fully deserves to be performed and recorded and Andrey Reshetin delivers an exciting performance.

The second disc, entitled "Senza Basso", includes four compositions of a rare breed: sonatas for two violins without a bass. There is no mention of them having been recorded here for the first time, but I can't remember any other recording and I certainly haven't heard them before. The Vivaldi expert Michael Talbot has suggested they could have been written for performances by Vivaldi and his father on their central European tour of 1729-30. "The absence of a bass part would have made them very suitable for impromptu performance in conditions where no cello or harpsichord was to hand". Another possibility is that they were ordered from him.

The sonatas come with a part for the basso continuo but this is optional. The bass only doubles the lowest notes of one of the solo parts. This suggests that they were conceived as sonatas without a bass, and that Vivaldi may have added a basso continuo part in case someone may like to add a bass instrument. This recording allows for a comparison of the difference between the two options: two sonatas are performed without basso continuo, and the other two with harpsichord. The two violin parts are treated on equal terms. They mostly imitate each other's thematic material, and there are also some passages in parallel motion.

These four sonatas are all in three movements, following the model of Vivaldi's own concertos. Although Vivaldi called them sonate da camera they omit any dance movements. There are some similarities between them and the double concertos for two violins, and that goes especially for the Sonata in G (RV 71) whose slow movement is almost identical with the slow movement from the Concerto in G (RV 516) (not 561, as the English text in the booklet says).

This disc is no less important than the previous one with solo sonatas. This repertoire is very seldom performed and recorded, if at all. It is delightful stuff and should appeal to violinists looking for something different. Any lover of the baroque violin and/or Vivaldi's music should consider adding this disc to his collection, especially since the three artists come up with excellent interpretations.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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