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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Concertos for flute and 'recorder'

[I] "Vivaldi's Seasons"
Bolette Roed, recorder
Arte dei Suonatori
rec: July 2017a / July & August 2018b, Mikotów (PL), [St John Evangelical Church]
Pentatone - PTC 5186 875 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (2.34'51")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] ["Spring"] Concerto in E flat (RV 257); Concerto in A Ķl rosignuolo' (RV 335a); Concerto in E 'L'amoroso' (RV 271); Concerto in E, op. 8,1 'La primavera' (RV 269)
["Summer"] Concerto in d minor, op. 8,9 (RV 236); Concerto in C, op. 4,7 (RV 185); Concerto in d minor, op. 4,8 (RV 249); Concerto in g minor, op. 8,2 'L'estate' (RV 315)
["Autumn"] Concerto in C, op. 8,12 (RV 449); Concerto in g minor, op. 4,6 (RV 316a); Concerto in a minor, op. 4,4 (RV 357); Concerto in F, op. 8,3 'L'autunno' (RV 293)
["Winter"] Concerto in g minor, op. 9,3 (RV 334); Concerto in b minor (RV 389); Concerto in c minor, op. 4,10 (RV 196); Concerto in f minor, op. 8,4 'L'inverno' (RV 297)

Aureliusz Golinski, Joanna Krefta, Marcin Tarnawskia, Katarzyna Olszewska, Ewa Golinska, Michal Marcinkowski, violin; Natalia Reichert, viola; Poppy Walshaw, cello; Michal Baka, Julia Karpetab, double bass; Yasunori Imamura, theorbo; Martin Gestera, Imbi Tarumb, harpsichord

[II] "Flute concertos"
Carlo Ipata, transverse flute
Auser Musici
Dir: Carlo Ipata
rec: Nov 13 - 17, 2020, Pisa, Chiesa di San Domenico
Glossa - GCD 923530 (© 2022) (47'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto in F, op. 10,1 'La tempesta di mare' (RV 433); Concerto in g minor, op. 10,2 'La notte' (RV 439); Concerto in D, op. 10,3 'Il gardellino' (RV 428); Concerto in G, op. 10,4 (RV 435); Concerto in F, op. 10,5 (RV 434); Concerto in G, op. 10,6 (RV 437)

Mauro Lopes, Beatrice Scaldini, violin; Gianni De Rosa, viola; Valeria Brunelli, cello; Francesco Tomei, double bass; Ugo di Giovanni, theorbo; Federica Bianchi, harpsichord


Antonio Vivaldi has written a large number of solo concertos. Most of them are for his own instrument, the violin. However, he also composed a substantial number of concertos for other instruments, such as the cello, the oboe and the bassoon. The recorder is not one of them: only a handful of concertos is specifically intended for the recorder or the flautino. One can add to that some concerti da camera; the recorder also appears in some concertos for multiple instruments. However, considering the quality and popularity of Vivaldi's music one can understand that recorder players would like to have more. They can turn to some concertos for the transverse flute, which can be adapted without much trouble for their own instrument. The performance of violin concertos on the recorder seems less obvious. However, the practice of arranging music for different instruments was widespread. From that angle the first production under review here seems to have history on its side.

The Danish recorder player Bolette Roed is one of many musicians who is inspired by Vivaldi's cycle of concertos known as Le Quattro Stagioni - the Four Seasons, based on sonnets from his own pen. They were already very popular in his own time. When the French started to embrace the Italian style, these concertos were among the most frequently-performed Italian works played at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. In our time, these concertos are available in many recordings, on modern and on period instruments, with small ensembles and large orchestras, and indeed in quite some arrangements. Bolette Roed took them as the starting point of a recording of sixteen violin concertos from Vivaldi's oeuvre.

In her personal notes in the booklet, Bolette Roed states that "[while] working with Arte dei Suonatori it dawned upon us, that so many of Vivaldi's other concertos could comfortably fit into the 'seasons' theme if one thinks about it. The seasons all have contrasting elements: no matter if it's spring, summer, autumn or winter, they all contain beautiful and promising moments as well as dark and tormenting ones. These thoughts inspired us to search out a few concertos that we felt could fit into the seasons theme, while at the same time holding a strong appeal to me personally." She does give some examples, such as the Concerto in C, op. 4,7, which she gives the title 'Sunrise', and which she associates with the summer season. However, she realises that this is something personal. Therefore, "I invite you to imagine your own story or emotions while listening to these recordings, and to consider what title you might give each piece".

The programme is divided into four sections, according to the four seasons. Each section comprises four concertos, and ends with one of the Four Seasons. The liner-notes, written by Nicholas Lockey, include much information about particular features of each concerto, which is very useful. However, the connection to the season is left to the listener. I am not going to dwell into this matter. It may be true that composers as Vivaldi did have extra-musical ideas even in pieces without a title. However, that brings us into the realm of speculation. The main subject of this review is the fact these concertos for violin are performed on the recorder and whether this has a satisfying result.

It is true, as I stated above, that music could be adapted to a different instrument than the one for which it was originally conceived. However, I don't think that one can arrange each piece for whatever instrument is available. That goes in particular for solo concertos. Whereas (trio) sonatas were mostly intended for performance by amateurs, who may not always have had the instruments at their disposal which the composer preferred, solo concertos were rather intended for professional players, for instance the members of court chapels. It is reasonable to assume that they had little need to adapt music for different instruments. If a composer wanted to offer an alternative, he may have indicated that in the score or on the title page, and have taken this into account in the way he composed a piece.

When Vivaldi wrote his solo concertos, the recorder was already a little out of fashion. It was basically an instrument of the past, and as Vivaldi was a violinist, his own instrument seems to have marked his style of composing. The recorder has a limited dynamic range, and that may have withheld him from writing more for it. That is also one of the issues here: these concertos require a larger dynamic differentiation than the recorder can provide. Obviously this also has an effect on the way the tutti are played. It seems to me that the performances are more restrained than would be ideal. I have criticised some performances by Italian ensembles doing too much to be different and sometimes rather exaggerating in their performances of Vivaldi's music, but here the approach is too modest. However, this may well reflect Bolette Roed's preferences, as I noted this restraint in previous recordings as well. Moreover, the recorder stands out against the strings of the tutti, whereas the violin is much more part of the ensemble. In performances with recorder, the balance between solo and tutti changes considerably.

Some concertos come off rather well, and that goes in particular for the Concerto in A (RV 335a), which has the title Il rosignuolo - the nightingale. In instrumental music, but also in opera and chamber cantatas, birdsong was often depicted by a recorder or a transverse flute. In other concertos the effects intended by Vivaldi don't come off that well, and sometimes they are even rather unnatural on the recorder. I noticed that, for instance, in the last movement of 'Autumn'. And the frosty atmosphere of Winter, as it is especially expressed in the middle movement, cannot be depicted on the recorder.

Bolette Roed is a fine recorder player, and she does really play well here. The same goes for Arte dei Suonatori. However, overall these performances don't convince me. I don't think they do real justice to what Vivaldi had in mind.

In 1729 Le Cčne in Amsterdam published a set of six concertos for transverse flute, strings and basso continuo as Vivaldi's Op. 10. Three concertos were arrangements of older pieces for different scorings, and two were originally conceived with a solo part for the recorder. Vivaldi may have arranged them for the fashionable transverse flute because he assumed that, in particular among professional players, there was no much demand for recorder music. Three of the concertos have titles, and they are - in their orginal form or in these arrangements - among Vivaldi's most popular works. One may speculate about what he may have wanted to express in pieces without a title, but in these cases it is crystal clear. The transverse flute turns out to be a perfect tool to realise the effects which aim to illustrate his ideas.

That is not very surprising in the case of the concertos Nos. 2 and 3. In La Notte, the typical sound of the flute is perfectly suited to illustrate the sleep in the fifth movement, "Il sonno". This Concerto in g minor is a reworking of the concerto da camera RV 104, scored for flute or violin, two ripieno violins, bassoon and basso comtinuo. As I already noted, the flute was often used to illustrate birdsong, and the Concerto in C, entitled Il Gardellino, is a perfect example. This piece is the reworking of the concerto da camera RV 90, whose various copies indicate different scorings: recorder/flute/violin, oboe/violin, violin, bassoon/cello and basso continuo. The first concerto, La tempesta di mare, is a much more turbulent piece, and there Vivaldi explores the dynamic capabilities of the flute. Here the strings also contribute substantially to the illustration of a storm at sea. Its model is the concerto da camera RV 98, scored for flute, oboe, violin, bassoon and basso continuo. Vivaldi had reworked this piece before, as a concerto per molti stromenti, for flute, oboe, bassoon, strings and basso continuo (RV 570). The Opus 8, which opens with the Four Seasons, also includes a concerto with the title La tempesta di mare, but that is an entirely different work.

The Concerto in G (RV 435) is the only piece in this collection that was specifically written for the printed edition, probably to complete it, as it was common habit to publish collections of six or twelve pieces. The autograph has not been preserved. The Concerto in F (RV 434) is a reworking of the concerto for recorder RV 442. The middle movement is an expressive largo cantabile. The Concerto in G (RV 437) is another piece that has its origin in a concerto da camera: the concerto RV 101 is scored for recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and basso continuo. The closing allegro is an example of the virtuosity that the transverse flute is capable of.

Whereas Vivaldi was one of the pioneers in Italy in his writing for the oboe and the bassoon, when he wrote or arranged his flute concertos, the instrument had already established itself in Italy. In 1707 the register of the Ospedale della Pietą mentions a girl called Lucieta traversie, and in 1708 Handel included a part for the transverse flute in his oratorio La Resurrezione, which was performed in Rome. In Naples several composers wrote flute concertos. However, the victory procession of the flute had yet to begin. Vivaldi's concertos are masterpieces in the genre, and are rightly performed regularly.

Carlo Ipata has been responsible for several recordings of vocal music, including operas. It is nice to hear him here on his own instrument. He delivers a very fine and incisive performance. He fully explores the flute's dynamic possibilities, and the strings follow him every step of the way, but there is no hint of exaggeration in tempi. I like especially his inventive and differentiated ornamentation, and the illustrative elements are perfectly worked out.

The only issue is that this disc is rather short. Vivaldi's oeuvre includes several more flute concertos. It is a shame that Ipata did not record at least some of them. However, considering the quality of the music and the performances, the short duration should not withhold the lovers of Vivaldi and/or the flute to purchase this recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Bolette Roed
Arte dei Suonatori
Auser Musici

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