musica Dei donum
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Solo Concertos"
Dir: Dorothea Seel
rec: Nov 8 - 9, 2013, Salzburg, Odeïon Kulturforum (Dorothea-Porsche Saal)
Hänssler Classic - CD 98.034 (© 2014) (63'24")
Cover & track-list
Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in B flat (RV 504);
Concerto for cello, strings and bc in g minor (RV 417);
Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in C (RV 450);
Concerto for transverse flute, oboe, violin, bassoon and bc in F (RV 99);
Concerto for transverse flute, oboe, violin, bassoon and bc in g minor (RV 107)
Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (RV 429);
Concerto for transverse flute, violin, bassoon and bc in g minor (RV 106)
Dorothea Seel, transverse flute;
Andreas Helm, oboe;
Katrin Lazar, bassoon;
Shunske Sato, Johannes Heim, violin;
Pabro de Pedro, viola;
Robin Michael, Bernadette Köbele, cello;
Christine Sticher, violone;
Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord
A new disc with concertos by Vivaldi is hardly something to get excited about. He belongs to the most frequently-recorded composers and hardly a month goes by without a new release. It all depends on the standard of playing and the interpretational approach whether a disc with his music can be considered a worthwhile addition to the discography. However, there are still pieces in Vivaldi's oeuvre which are not that well-known, and that also goes for some of the concertos included in the present disc.
In particular some of Vivaldi's bassoon and cello concertos are not that often performed and recorded. That is probably due to the fact that there are so many of them. Vivaldi composed no less than 39 concertos for the bassoon. One can add a number of concertos for various solo instruments which also include a bassoon part, and some of the concerti da camera in which this instrument plays a solo part. Three of the latter are recorded here as well. Vivaldi composed a considerable part of his instrumental oeuvre for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà where he worked for many years, first as maestro del violino, then as maestro dei concerti. But there is no documentary evidence that girls from this institution played the bassoon and we don't know any Italian bassoon virtuosos from Vivaldi's time. This has led to the assumption that the bassoon concertos were written for virtuosos abroad, at the various courts with which Vivaldi had connections. One cannot exclude the possibility, though, that the bassoon was played by musicians whose first instrument was the oboe.
Vivaldi also paid much attention to the cello: he composed 27 solo concertos and 9 sonatas for cello and basso continuo. The instrument is also given solo parts in concertos for various instruments. In a way his contributions to the repertoire for cello solo were groundbreaking as it was a relatively new instrument. Only during the course of the 17th century it started to appear in solo roles, mostly sonatas. Considering that its history was much shorter than that of the violin it is remarkable that many of the concertos are technically demanding. Like in the case of the bassoon concertos it seems likely that at least part of his output was written for performers outside the Ospedale. Several of the concertos were once owned by Prince Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid, an avid amateur cellist who had close connections to Giovanni Benedetto Platti. The latter wrote a number of pieces with cello parts for him, and the Prince also purchased cello music from other sources.
Vivaldi wrote a considerable amount of music for the transverse flute. In the early decades of the 18th century this instrument rose in popularity, at the cost of the recorder. Vivaldi's six concertos op. 10 bear witness to that. A number of these are reworkings of concerti da camera with parts for recorder. When the op. 10 was printed in Amsterdam in 1729 the solo parts were all for the transverse flute. How many flute concertos Vivaldi wrote is not easy to establish, because of the confusion in regard to the term flauto which is either interpreted as transverse flute or as recorder. This is reflected by the various recordings of such concertos. For whom these were composed is also not totally clear. However, one of Vivaldi's colleagues at the Ospedale was Ignazio Siber who had been in the entourage of Prince Ruspoli in Rome before moving to Venice. Here he became maestro del traversiè; one of his pupils appears in the Ospedale's records as Lucietta dal Traversie. The Concerto in D is a technically demanding piece; if it was written for a performance by Lucietta or some other pupil they must have been highly skilled.
Like the flute the oboe was a relatively new instrument. It was popular in France where it had entered the opera orchestra under Lully. In Venice it made its first appearance in an opera score in 1692. In 1698 an oboist became a member of the orchestra of San Marco; the oboe replaced the cornett which had become obsolete in the last decades of the 17th century. The Ospedale appointed its first oboe teacher in 1703 - the same year as Vivaldi became violin teacher - in the person of Ignazio Rion, succeeded in 1706 by Ludwig Erdmann. In 1708 the latter left Venice and in 1713 his position was taken by Ignazio Siber, the same who later also became flute teacher. This bears further witness to the fact that the combination of flute and oboe in one person was quite common. We know one oboist from the Ospedale by name: Pellegrina. Several of Vivaldi's works were written for her. It is quite possible that some concertos were written for Johann Christian Richter, the oboist of the Dresden court chapel who visited Venice in 1716/17, together with Johann Georg Pisendel, accompanying the electoral prince Friedrich August on his grand tour. The Concerto in C (RV 450) is one of a group of concertos which were adapted from bassoon concertos, dating from 1735 or shortly thereafter.
The concerti da camera belong to the best-known part of Vivaldi's oeuvre. They are impossible to date with any precision, but were probably written around 1720. An important part of their appeal is the fact that they are written for various instruments from different families which are treated on equal footing. Several concertos also exist in alternative scorings. These are very lively pieces whose solo parts are often technically challenging.
I started this review by saying that a new Vivaldi disc is not something to get excited about. However, this definitely is a disc to get excited about. The ensemble was founded in 2010 and this is its first commercial recording. They could not have made a better start. The playing is outstanding, both in ensemble and in the solo parts. All members of the ensemble are virtuosos on their respective instruments. I especially like the speechlike performance, with a clear articulation and dynamic accentuation. In some movements the tempo is treated with differentation through slowing down and speeding up. This underlines the dramatic aspects of Vivaldi's instrumental works. In general the tempi have been well-chosen. The andante from the Concerto in D (RV 429) is faster here than in other recordings, and rightly so. An andante is a moderately fast rather than a slow tempo. The value of this disc is increased by the choice of some solo concertos which are not that often performed and recorded.
Even if you have many discs with music by Vivaldi in your collection, don't miss this one.
Johan van Veen (© 2014)