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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Concerti per La Pietà"

Europa Galante
Dir: Fabio Biondi

rec: May 20 - 22, 2019, Lonigo, Villa San Fermo
Glossa - GCD 923414 (© 2020) (71'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for strings and bc in g minor (RV 152); Concerto for viola d'amore, lute, strings and bc in d minor (RV 540)be; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D 'per la Signora Chiara' (RV 222) (version Conservatorio di Venezia)a; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E flat 'per Anna Maria' (RV 349) (version Conservatorio di Venezia)a; Concerto for violin, organ, cello, strings and bc in C (RV 554a)adf; Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in D (RV 513)ac

Fabio Biondi, violin (soloa), viola d'amoreb; Fabio Ravasi, Elin Gabrielsson, Fabrizio Cipriani, Andrea Rognoni (soloc, Silvia Falavigna, Rossella Borsoni, violin; Stefano Marcocchi, viola; Alessandro Andriani, cellod; Patxi Montero, cello; Giangiacomo Pinardi, lutee, theorbo; Paola Poncet, harpsichord, organf

Antonio Vivaldi is one of the most frequently-performed composers of the baroque era, and the number of recordings of his oeuvre is quite large. Even if we exclude the evergreens, such as the Four Seasons and the recorder concertos, a large part of his oeuvre is available on disc. Even so, there are still pieces which are waiting to be discovered, and now and then a disc is released which includes some first recordings. That is also the case with the disc under review here, which Fabio Biondi and his ensemble Europa Galante, pioneers in the historical approach to Vivaldi, recorded at the occasion of the ensemble's 30th anniversary.

The two concertos for violin are not recorded for the first time as such, but are performed here in versions not available on disc to date. These are preserved at the Conservatorio di Venezia. The Concerto in D is slightly different from the better-known version found in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino. It has the addition "per la Signora Chiara", referring to one of the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, who must have been a virtuoso on the violin. She was a pupil of Anna Maria dal Violin, herself one of Vivaldi's star pupils. Her name is added to the Concerto in E flat, again performed here for the first time in the version of the Conservatorio di Venezia. It is of particular importance as it includes cadenzas from Vivaldi's own pen. We come here as closely as possible to the performance practice of the composer himself and of his best pupils. Only recently Midori Seiler devoted a recording to the concertos which Anna Maria dal Violin included in her own partbook, in which the slow movements come with written-out ornamentation by herself or by Vivaldi. The two concertos recorded by Fabio Biondi demonstrate what the virtuosity of Vivaldi's writing for the violin is about. That does not so much concern double stopping which seems to appear only seldom in his violin music, but rather the exploration of the entire range of the violin and especially of the higher positions as well as brilliant ornamentation and cadenzas.

The programme starts with the Concerto in D (RV 513). It is one of the most virtuosic pieces and the only double concerto that was printed - apart from those in L'Estro Armonico Op. 3. The edition dates from 1736 but the concerto was probably written about ten years earlier. The andante includes chromaticism. Particularly remarkable is the written-out cadenza for both violins in the last movement which includes various modulations.

The organ plays a very minor role in Vivaldi's oeuvre. Only in a few concertos it is given an obbligato part. One of them is the Concerto in C (RV 554), which is scored for violin, organ and oboe, with strings and basso continuo. However, it is telling that Vivaldi suggests a second violin as an alternative for the organ. That is also the case in the version included here, in which the oboe part is given to the cello.

One may be surprised to learn that Vivaldi played the viola d'amore, which was generally appreciated because of its sweet sound and often associated with night - in short, an instrument most suitable to play music of a rather intimate and introspective kind. And that is not what one immediately associates with Vivaldi, in particular with the often very virtuoso violin concertos in mind. It is remarkable that Vivaldi composed as many as eight concertos with viola d'amore: seven with strings and basso continuo, one of which with an additional solo part for the lute, and one concerto da camera for viola d'amore, two horns, two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo. Fabio Biondi once recorded all of them, and here we get the concerto with lute. The viola d'amore part was undoubtedly played by one of the violin virtuosos of the Ospedale (Pierre Élie Mamou, in his liner-notes, suggests it was Signora Chiara), whereas the lute part may have been intended for Giuseppina del Chitarrone.

Lastly, the Concerto in g minor is one of a large corpus of concertos and sinfonias for strings and basso continuo, without obbligato parts. Some of them were intended for liturgical performances. This particular concerto is notable for its dramatic nature of the opening movement.

Fabio Biondi has been one of the pioneers of historical performance practice in Italy, and one of the major advocates of the music by Vivaldi. He has always represented a voice of his own in the choir of Vivaldi interpreters. His tone and the way he plays the violin are somewhat different from what we hear from other interpreters, which also regards his application of vibrato. In previous reviews I have expressed my reservations with regard to Biondi's approach. That does not diminish my appreciation for his performances and his promotion of Vivaldi's music. This disc is a fine specimen of his art, and that of his ensemble. These are lively performances, which will impress any Vivaldi lover. Biondi is a brilliant soloist, but does give space to his colleagues, for instance in the double concerto as well as the concerto for viola d'amore and lute. The dramatic character of the opening movement from the Concerto in g minor comes off perfectly. The decision to record unknown versions of two concertos only adds to the importance of this disc.

Thirty years of recording baroque music, with special attention to Vivaldi, fully deserves gratulations. This disc is a nice present to the many lovers of Vivaldi's music.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Europa Galante

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