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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Concertos"

New Trinity Baroque
Dir: Predrag Gosta

rec: Feb 2007 & Sept 2010, Atlanta, GA, St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church
Edition Lilac - 181210-2 (© 2010) (69'17")
No liner notes
Cover & track-list

Concerto for cello, strings and bc in d minor (RV 407)c; Concerto for lute, 2 violins and bc in D (RV 93)e; Concerto for strings and bc in F (RV 141); Concerto for strings and bc in g minor (RV 157); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in e minor (RV 273)a; Concerto for 2 cellos, strings and bc in g minor (RV 531)cd; Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in a minor, op. 3,8 (RV 522)ab [1]

Source: [1] L'Estro Armonico, op. 3, 1711

[soli] Carrie Krausea, Daniela Giulia Piersonb, violin; André Laurent O'Neilc, Christina Babich Rosserd, cello; Michael Fields, archlutee

Very few composers of the baroque era enjoy so much popularity these days as Antonio Vivaldi. The discography of his works is huge and is still growing almost every month. Therefore you probably won't be surprised that I was quite sceptical when I received this disc and had a look at the track-list. There wasn't anything which caught my eye as being rather uncommon, and I didn't expect to hear anything that I hadn't heard before. Moreover, I had never heard New Trinity Baroque. What could it bring that made me think this disc is a worthwhile addition to the Vivaldi discography? Let's see.

The programme begins with one of Vivaldi's most popular concertos from his opus 3, which was also arranged for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach. Remarkable in the first movement is the strong accent on the second note of the opening motif. I found that rather odd and can't see any justification for it. The soli are beautifully played; I noticed the differentiated treatment of dynamics with much satisfaction. In the second movement it is in particular the lavish ornamentation which draws the attention. Sometimes it is dangerously close to the modern habit in opera to rewrite complete lines, but the soloists just avoid going overboard.

Vivaldi must have liked the cello a lot, since he composed a large number of concertos for it. Only for the violin - his own instrument - and the bassoon he has written more concertos. Some of them were probably written for girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, but others could have been commissioned by cellists - including highly-skilled amateurs - across Europe. The Concerto in d minor (RV 407) is a fine specimen of the genre, and like in his violin concertos the theatre is never far away. This is effectively emphasized in the opening movement with a rather extreme rallentando, followed by a general pause. I felt that it is held a fraction too long, making the tension to ebb away. Again I liked the dynamic accents in this concerto, as a result of which the rhythmic pulse is perfectly exposed. André Laurent O'Neil gives a strongly gestural performance of the solo part. The programme ends with Vivaldi's only concerto for two cellos, the Concerto in g minor (RV 531). The opening is quite unusual: the tutti keep silent, and leave the stage to the two cellos and the basso continuo. The slight rallentandi in the solo parts create a lot of tension, and the soli in the closing allegro are also theatrical in character. The largo receives an incisive performance from the two soloists.

The Concerto for lute, 2 violins and bc in D (RV 93) belongs to the category of the concerto da camera for various instruments and bc. In most of them the instruments are treated on equal footing, but that is not the case here. The lute is in the centre, whereas the two violins are reduced to accompaniment. Michael Fields provides a good rendition of the solo part; I especially liked his ornamentation in the largo. In the first movement I couldn't always hear the unaccentuated notes clearly. The ensemble is immaculate here.

Vivaldi's music was quite popular across Europe, but there was also some stern criticism. Some considered the virtuosity of his violin concertos exaggerated, and in England, which in Vivaldi's time was the victim of Italomania, the lack of counterpoint in his oeuvre was assessed negatively. The music lovers over there probably didn't know his concertos for strings and bc, often called ripieno concertos. Two of them are included in the programme, the Concerto in F (RV 141) and the better-known Concerto in g minor (RV 157). The fast movements are played in a rather moderate tempo, if one compares these performances with those by some Italian orchestras. I probably would have preferred slightly swifter tempi, especially in the latter of the two, but they are beautifully played here. Thanks to the transparence of the ensemble's sound the counterpoint is well exposed, and I was especially pleased to hear how well the rhythmic pulse is delineated. The music is allowed to really breathe.

Lastly, a specimen of Vivaldi's art of playing of and composing for the violin. The Concerto in e minor (RV 273) is a late concerto, and of considerable virtuosity. The opening movement begins like an opera aria: every moment one expects a singer to enter the proceedings. We get a violin instead, but its singing is no less dramatic than that of an opera singer. The solo part may be virtuosic, but Carrie Krause has no problems with it. She delivers a highly impressive and technically immaculate interpretation. Whatever the escapades up and down the scale there is never any scratchy playing. The slow movement is very expressive, and in the closing allegro I liked particularly the effective dynamic contrasts.

New Trinity Baroque share their theatrical and gestural approach of Vivaldi's music with Italian baroque orchestras. Fortunately they avoid the mannerisms and exaggerations of some of them. I was especially struck by the warm and pleasant sound of the ensemble, and the high technical standard. The treatment of dynamics and tempo and the clear exposition of the rhythmic pulse are some of the features of these performances which I particularly appreciate, and which I so often sorely miss in recordings.

I have only one really negative thing to say about this disc: the lack of any liner-notes. The listener is referred to the site of the record company, but if you click on "album notes and reviews" you only get the biography of the ensemble and its director, but these are also on the tray. A missed opportunity.

But, as you have noticed, I have greatly enjoyed this disc. Returning to my question at the start of this review: is this a worthwhile addition to the Vivaldi discography? Most definitely: yes! Even if you have a large number of Vivaldi discs in your collection, you should consider purchasing this one. You won't be disappointed.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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