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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "The Complete Cello Sonatas"

David Watkin, cello
The King's Consort

rec: Nov 1993, Orford Church, Suffolk
Hyperion dyad - CDD22065 (2 CDs) (R) (© 2010) (1.55'37")
Liner-notes: E/D/F

Sonata in E flat (RV 39); Sonata in e minor (RV 40); Sonata in F (RV 41); Sonata in g minor (RV 42); Sonata in a minor (RV 43); Sonata in a minor (RV 44); Sonata in B flat (RV 45); Sonata in B flat (RV 46); Sonata in B flat (RV 47)

Helen Gough, cello [bc]; David Miller, theorbo, archlute, guitar; Robert King, harpsichord, organ

Vivaldi composed music for almost any instrument in vogue in his time. But he gave special attention to the violin, his own instrument which he taught at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. It is assumed that he was also acquainted with most other string instruments, including the cello. His compositions show that he was well aware of its idiosyncracies. He composed a large number of solo concertos for the cello. In comparison the number of solo sonatas is limited: the catalogue of his works includes just nine authentic pieces for cello and basso continuo. It is very likely he has written more, and a part of his output in this department has been lost.

Vivaldi didn't bother to publish his cello sonatas. Six sonatas have been published in Paris by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc in the late 1730s. It is likely this happened without Vivaldi's knowledge. The publisher tried to exploit the popularity of the cello in France at the time, and simply put together six sonatas which were circulating in manuscript. This seems even more likely because of the fact that no less than three sonatas are in the same key - B flat -, something composers tried to avoid. Some sonatas may originally have been written for the pupils of the Ospedale, others were the result of commissions by dilettantes, mostly aristocrats. One of them could have been Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, for whom Giovanni Benedetto Platti also composed a considerable number of pieces. The Sonata in g minor (RV 42) and the Sonata in B flat (RV 46) are included in the library of the Counts of Schönborn-Wiesentheid.

These two sonatas begin with a preludio, which is followed by three movements with dance titles: allemanda, sarabanda, gigue or corrente. In that respect they follow the model of the sonata da camera, whereas the other sonatas are in the style of the sonata da chiesa. That doesn't mean there is any real difference between the two categories. The Sonata in B flat RV 46 is also part of the collection published in Paris, and here the dance titles don't appear.

Whereas some of Vivaldi's compositions for violin give the impression of being virtuosic for virtuosity's sake, that is not the case with these cello sonatas. They are all of great substance, and the slow movements are particularly expressive. Examples are the second largos of the Sonata in a minor (RV 44) and the Sonata in B flat (RV 45). The most expressive of them all is probably the second largo of the Sonata in B flat (RV 46). In this movement the solo cello is accompanied by the continuo cello only. Otherwise the basso continuo is performed with cello, theorbo, archlute, guitar, harpsichord and organ in various combinations. This gives the opportunity to adapt the scoring of the basso continuo to the character of the various sonatas, and that opportunity has been used to good effect. The slow movements are given profound interpretations by David Watkin and the basso continuo group, all members of The King's Consort. The fast movements come off just as well, and the often pronounced rhythms are perfectly realized. The closing allegro of the Sonata in a minor RV 44 is an eloquent example, and the first allegro from the Sonata in a minor (RV 43) even more so. The clear distinction between good and bad notes and the subtle but effective dynamic shades are instrumental in realising the often sparkling nature of the fast movements.

This set was first released in 1995. More than 15 years later it can still hold its ground. Those who didn't purchase these discs should not hesitate to do so now that they have been reissued at bargain price. The booklet contains an essay with all the necessary information by the Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

David Watkin
The King's Consort

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