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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Violin Concertos

[I] "Concerti per violino IV 'L'imperatore'"
Riccardo Minasi, violin
Il Pomo d'Oro
Dir: Riccardo Minasi
rec: Oct 2011, Lonigo
Naïve - OP 30533 (© 2012) (77'19")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover & track-list

Concerto in C, op. 9,1 (RV 181a) (allegro) [1]; Concerto in b minor, op. 9,12 (RV 391) [1]; Concerto in C 'p.S.M.C.C.' (RV 171); Concerto in C (RV 181); Concerto in E (RV 263a); Concerto in E 'L'amoroso' (RV 271); Concerto in g minor (RV 327); Concerto in g minor (RV 331)

Source: [1] La Cetra, op. 9, 1727

Alfia Bakieva, Valerio Losito, Laura Corolla, Mauro Lopes Ferreira, Laura Mirri, Boris Begelman, violin; Enrico Parizzi, Pablo de Pedro, Giulio d'Alessio, viola; Marco Ceccato, Ludovico Minasi, cello; Davide Nava, double bass; Margret Köll, harp; Giulia Nuti, Andrea Perugi, harpsichord

[II] "Le quattro stagioni & Il grosso mogul"
Robin Peter Müller, violin
La Folia Barockorchester
Dir: Robin Peter Müller
rec: August 4 - 6, 2014, Dresden, Palais im Großen Garten
Stockfisch - SFR 357.4086.2 (© 2015) (62'02")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690-1758): Concerto in C (Bre 3); Antonio VIVALDI: Concerto in E, op. 8,1 'La Primavera' (RV 269); Concerto in g minor, op. 8,2 'L'Estate' (RV 315); Concerto in F, op. 8,3 'L'Autumno' (RV 293); Concerto in f minor, op. 8,4 'L'Inverno' (RV 297); Concerto in D 'Il grosso mogul' (RV 208)

Pia Grutschuss, violin; Filip Marius, violin, guitar; Sibille Klepper, viola; Gerd Fischer-Baudys, cello; Sophia Scheifler, violone; Vanessa Heinisch, theorbo; Naoko Kitaya, harpsichord

Score Brescianello
Scores Vivaldi

Composers from the baroque era were always on the look-out for patrons, either someone who would provide them with financial support or someone whose position would give them a certain status. Antonio Vivaldi was no exception. At several points during his career he was in contact with Charles VI, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire who was a great lover of music and gathered an impressive number of highly-qualified performers and composers at his court in Vienna. One way of associating oneself with an important figure like that was the dedication of a collection of compositions. Vivaldi dedicated two sets of concertos to the Emperor, curiously with the same title, La Cetra. The title can be explained by the fact that this instrument - the lyre, the symbol of music in classical mythology - was often associated with the Habsburg dynasty. The first collection was published as Vivaldi's op. 9 in 1727 in Amsterdam. In September 1728 the composer met Charles in Trieste, and on that occasion offered him a second collection, again comprising twelve concertos. These were all new, except one which had already been included in the op. 9 set. This disc focuses on the concertos which can be associated with the Emperor; that explains the title 'L'imperatore'. The liner-notes don't indicate exactly whether every concerto played here was part of the present to the Emperor.

The Concerto in C (RV 171) specifically refers to Charles. It has the addition p.S.M.C.C. to its title: per Sua Maestà Cesarea Cattolica (for His Imperial Catholic Majesty). That doesn't indicate that Vivaldi composed it for the Emperor; he could have added the title at a later stage, for instance when he played it before Charles, as Cesare Fertonani suggests in his liner-notes. A concerto which was part of the collection Vivaldi offered to the Emperor is the Concerto in b minor (RV 391) which was also included in the op. 9 set of 1727. Here Vivaldi makes use of scordatura; it is one of only five concertos in his oeuvre in which he uses it. In this case Vivaldi links up with a tradition in Austria which goes back to the days of Biber.

Many of Vivaldi's concertos have titles; they belong to his most frequently-performed, such as the Four Seasons or Il Gardellino and La Notte. Some refer to natural phenomena, others to certain affections. An example of the latter is L'Amoroso, the title of the Concerto in E (RV 271). However, even in concertos without a title a particular movement, mostly the slow movement, can give the impression of expressing some specific affection. That is the case, for instance, in the largo from the Concerto in g minor (RV 331).

The fast movements are mostly brilliant and have theatrical traits. However, in his notes Fertonani points to various movements with lyrical expressiveness, even in fast movements. Too little of that comes off here. I have heard the previous three volumes in this series which I generally appreciated, but the present fourth instalment has disappointed me. Riccardo Minasi too often produces an aggressive, harsh tone and his playing is often rough and abrasive. Dynamic accents are an important part of a good interpretation of baroque repertoire but one should not exaggerate. Exactly that happens here. The solo part often includes passages with Minasi playing staccato, and I am not sure that this is what is indicated in the score. Remarkable is the opening movement of the Concerto in E (RV 263a) whose ritornello is dominated by a sequence of three chords returning time and again. They should receive dynamic emphasis, but again I feel that it is overdone here.

Not all is sorrow and misery: the largo from the Concerto in g minor (RV 327) is nicely done. The disc ends on a positive note with the Concerto in C (RV 181) which is somewhat different from the rest of the programme. Here Margret Köll joins the ensemble with her harp and does so to good effect.

I can't say that I am really surprised by Minasi's playing. I have heard him several times, also in live performances, and he seems to favour this rather aggressive style. Some may like it, but I certainly don't. He is certainly a virtuoso but to me it is virtuosity for its own sake. In the end his performances lack the expressivity even Vivaldi's music requires. The miking is a bit too close for comfort and rather emphasizes the shortcomings of the performances.

The second disc is not any better, I'm afraid. If there are one hundred recordings of the Four Seasons in the catalogue, what do you need to do to make No. 101 stand out? You exaggerate the effects the composer requires - even more than others before you - and add some of your own. That seems to be the concept of this new by Robin Peter Müller and La Folia Barockorchester. The many effects Vivaldi has inserted in his concertos are terribly overdone. The contrast between piano and forte seems not enough; fortes are played as fortissimi. The solo part in the largo from the Winter is taken with so much rhythmic freedom that the violin sometimes plays out of time. It is also so dominating that the pizzicati in the tutti are hardly audible. The closing allegro from the Spring opens with a kind of pedal point, fortissimo of course, and with harpsichord, theorbo and guitar used as percussion instruments. A lot of noise, but little substance. That sums up these performances pretty well. I'm getting a little tired of all these eccentricities which contribute absolutely nothing to what Vivaldi wanted to express.

Only recently I reviewed a recording of cello concertos in which this same ensemble accompanied the cellist Jan Vogler. I wrote: "I can't remember having heard La Folia Barockorchester before but I hope they usually play better than here." This is the second time I have heard them, and unfortunately they don't play any better. Subtlety seems not the name of their game. The Concerto in D 'Il grosso mogul' is a little better than the Four Seasons, but there is some exaggeration here as well, and in this case especially in the slow movement.

In the end the only really interesting part of this disc is the Concerto in D by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianelli which is preserved in the library of the Dresden court orchestra. One of the copies is in the hand of Johann Georg Pisendel, the orchestra's concertmaster in the second quarter of the 18th century. It is a nice concerto and one of its features is the important role of the first violin which is regularly in dialogue with the solo violin. It receives a relatively good performance, certainly much better than the rest of the programme. But about ten minutes of good playing is insufficient to save this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Riccardo Minasi
Il Pomo d'Oro
La Folia Barockorchester

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