musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Cello Concertos"

Jean-Guihen Queyras, celloa; Christian Beuse, bassoonb
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Dir: Georg Kallweit

rec: Oct 2010, Berlin, Teldex Studio
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902095 (© 2011) (68'34")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Sinfonia VI in g minor 'Sant'Elena al Calvario' [2]; Sinfonia XII in a minor 'La passione di Gesù Signor nostro' [2]; Antonio VIVALDI: Concerto for cello, strings and bc in F (RV 412)a; Concerto for cello, strings and bc in g minor (RV 416)a; Concerto for cello, strings and bc in a minor (RV 419)a; Concerto for cello, strings and bc in b minor (RV 424)a; Concerto for cello, strings, obbligato bassoon and bc in e minor (RV 409)ab; Concerto for strings and bc in C (RV 114); Concerto for 2 violins, cello, strings and bc in d minor, op. 3,11 (RV 565)cde [1]; Dorilla in tempe (RV 709) (sinfonia)

Sources: [1] Antonio Vivaldi, L'Estro Armonico, op. 3, 1711; [2] Antonio Caldara, 12 Sinfonie a 4

[AAM Berlin] (soloists) Georg Kallweitc, Elfa Run Kristinsdottird, violin; Jan Freiheit, celloe

Unlike the title suggests this disc includes not only cello concertos by Vivaldi. In between the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin plays two concertos for strings by Vivaldi and two sinfonias - overtures for oratorios - by his contemporary Antonio Caldara. Even so, most people will probably purchase this disc because of the cello concertos and the interpretation by Jean-Guihen Queyras. He is one of the most sought-after cellists of today, and because of his background in the 'traditional' performance practice this disc has caused a lot of curiosity.

Surfing at the internet I could only find positive assessments, and more than one critic considered it one of the best discs of Vivaldi cello concertos. I have to admit that I really don't understand this. In fact, there is a lot wrong with this recording.

Let me start with assuring you that Queyras doesn't play a period instrument. He has adapted it in some way to the instruments of the orchestra, for instance in the use of gut strings, but that doesn't make it a baroque cello. The difference with a period instrument can easily be demonstrated by a comparison with the cello which Jan Freiheit, first cellist of the AAM Berlin, plays in the Concerto in d minor, op. 3,11. It is telling that this part is not played by Queyras. With his cello he would have overpowered the two solo violins. This is indicative of one of the problems of this disc: the lack of balance between the solo cello and the ensemble. Because of the use of an inappropriate instrument the cello concertos are treated like romantic solo concertos, with a soloist who competes with the orchestra. The cello is too dominant, which is partly due to the character of the instrument but probably also the recording.

Concertos in the baroque era are ensemble pieces, and the soloists is primus inter pares. He steps forward for the solo episodes and integrates in the ensemble in the tutti. That is not the case here. I am pretty sure that Queyras doesn't participate, for instance, in the tutti of the Concerto in g minor (RV 416). I mention this particular concerto because I was able to compare this performance with that of the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, where the cellist clearly takes part in the tutti episodes. That recording also reveals that this performance by Queyras is not the most subtle, and leaves much to be desired in regard to historical performance practice. Yes, there are some dynamic accents, and he largely avoids vibrato, but there is a lack of differentiation between good and bad notes and there is too much legato playing.

I am surprised that the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, one of the best ensembles of its kind, has decided to cooperate with Jean-Guihen Queyras. The gap between the two traditions is not easily to overcome. If Queyras would have played this way with an ensemble of modern instruments, my assessment would have been much more positive. Some modern orchestras have achieved great results with adopting historical performance practice while playing on modern instruments. But this project is a failure.

The performances of the string concertos are not always better than the solo concertos. I have heard more subtle performances of the Concerto in d minor, op. 3,11, for instance from the Accademia Bizantina. And the orchestra has also fallen for the modern habit of using the theorbo as a percussion instrument. This is an indication of what seems to be today's delusion: everything should be hard, loud, fast and exciting. But there will come a time when music lovers will get bored by this style of playing as well. And then what?

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Jean-Guihen Queyras
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

CD Reviews