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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Concerti"

Concerto Köln
Dir: Werner Ehrhardt

rec: March 1988, Wuppertal, Immanuelskirchea; Dec 1988, Lindlar, Kulturzentrumb
Phoenix - 434 (2 CDs) (R) (© 2009) (1.58'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F

Concerto in c minor (RV 441)a; Concerto in d minor (RV 566)a; Concerto in G (RV 545)a; Concerto in g minor (RV 155)b; Concerto in g minor (RV 156)b; Concerto in A (RV 158)a; Concerto in A (RV 552)b; Concerto in B flat (arr Johann Georg Pisendel) (RV 162)a; Concerto in d minor, op. 3,11 (RV 565)a [1]; Concerto in F, op.10,1 'La Tempesta di Mare' (RV 433)b [2]; Concerto in g minor, op. 10,2 'La Notte' (RV 439)b [2]; Concerto funebre in B flat (RV 579)b; Concerto in due cori in A (RV 585)a; Sinfonia in E (RV 131)b

Source: [1] L’estro armonico, op. 3, 1711; [2] VI Concerti, op. 10, 1729

[soli] Cordula Breuer, Martin Sandhoff, recorder, transverse flute; Eberhard Zummach, Michael Niesemann, recorder, oboe; David Mings, bassoon; Werner Ehrhardt, Andrea Keller, Sylvie Kraus, Gustavo Zarba, violin; Werner Matzke, Nina Diehl, cello; Gerald Hambitzer, organ

The two discs of this set were originally released at the end of the 1980s. That was shortly before Italian ensembles started to take the early music scene by storm. In a way these recordings by Concerto Köln foreshadow what we have become accustomed to hearing from recordings by Italian baroque orchestras. Among the features of these interpretations are strong contrasts in tempo and dynamics, a clear differentiation between good and bad notes and in general a quite theatrical and dramatic approach to Italian instrumental music.

These performances were released in a time when most recordings of Vivaldi's music came from English ensembles like The Academy of Ancient Music, the English Concert or the Raglan Baroque Players. Despite their virtues they were introverted rather than passionate and were not really able to shake off the prejudices against Vivaldi and his music. Much has changed in this respect.

These discs, originally released by the German label Capriccio, give a good overview of Vivaldi's oeuvre. Listening to these fourteen concertos one is impressed by the variety in character and scoring. It is easy to imagine why Vivaldi's music had such a broad appeal throughout Europe.

The first disc starts off with the Concerto in F, op. 10,1 (RV 433), from a genre Vivaldi has become famous for: the depiction of a natural phenomenon, in this case a storm at sea. In this same category falls the Concerto in g minor, op. 10,2 'La Notte' (RV 439) which closes the first disc, and the Le Quattro Stagioni. Concertos like these take full profit from the approach of Concerto Köln. Strong dynamic accents and contrasts in tempo help in exploring the effects Vivaldi demands to illustrate storms or the fears and anxieties of the night.

Another concerto with a title is the Concerto funebre in B flat (RV 579) which is of a quite different character. With its four movements it pays tribute to the sonata da camera of Corelli. What is notable here is Vivaldi's scoring, for violin, oboe, 3 viole all'inglese (a kind of viola da gamba), salmoè (chalumeau) with strings and bc. The oboe and chalumeau often play unisono and they have a remarkable role which greatly contributes to the character of this piece.

Also unusual is the Concerto for violin, 3 violins per eco in lontano, strings and bc in A (RV 552). It is a dialogue of a solo violin and three violins playing at a distance and echoing its phrases. The Sinfonia in E (RV 131) and the Concertos in g minor (RV 155 and 156), all for strings and bc, belong to a large number of pieces without solo parts, although RV 155 contains some solo passages. This is the only of the three which also follows the pattern of the sonata da camera.

The second disc begins with another piece of this kind, the Concerto in A (RV 158), and closes with the Concerto in d minor, op. 3,11 (RV 565), which Johann Sebastian Bach arranged for organ. Between these two we hear several concertos with solo parts for various instruments. In the Concerto in d minor (RV 566) the outer movements are dominated by a dialogue between three groups of two instruments: recorders, oboes and violins, whereas the slow movement is a trio of two recorders and bassoon without strings or basso continuo.

Vivaldi wrote a number of concertos for two instruments, and we find here a specimen in the Concerto in G (RV 545) with solo parts for oboe and bassoon. The principle of a dialogue is also applied in the Concerto in due cori in A (RV 585). Both groups consist of two recorders, two violins and cello; the second also has a solo organ. They all get some solo passages which differ in length, and both are supported by a corpus of strings and bc.

The German violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel, who for a long time was the leader of the orchestra of the court in Dresden, had been a pupil of Vivaldi, and the Concerto in B flat (RV 162) can here be heard in his arrangement. Originally composed for strings and bc Pisendel added parts for two recorders, two oboes and bassoon. The recorder takes a solo role in the Concerto in c minor (RV 441).

This is one of the relatively few concertos Vivaldi has written for recorder. The first disc begins with the Concerto 'La Tempesta di Mare', and here the solo part is also played on the recorder. But the opus 10 was scored for transverse flute, strings and basso continuo. I can't figure out why the recorder has been chosen as in the two other versions of this piece (RV 98 and RV 570) the solo part is also for transverse flute. The same is true for the Concerto 'La Notte' which is based on the Concerto da camera RV 104. In both versions the solo part is written for the transverse flute.

Now that we know so many Italian recordings of Vivaldi's music are these reissues any competition? I think they are, not because they are better but because they are so good in themselves that they can exist alongside more recent recordings. At the time these discs were released Concerto Köln was one of Europe's best baroque orchestras, and as I have already indicated its approach of this repertoire was in many ways different from what was then common. The quality of the orchestra is impressive, the ensemble is outstanding and the solo parts are all brilliantly played.

That doesn't mean everything is perfect. The second movement of the Concerto 'La Tempesta di Mare' is a bit stiff and the fast movements of the Concerto RV 155 could have been played faster. The opening movement of the Concerto RV 156 is relatively moderate in tempo; I know Italian performances which are twice as fast. But this tempo allows the harmonic peculiarities coming to the fore more clearly, which may have been the reason for this choice of pacing. The last movement is really too slow, but the slow movement is played with great expression, like the slow movements of RV 155. The tempi on the second disc are generally well chosen. The rhythmic pulse of the Concerto RV 162 is beautifully realised, especially in the last movement, and the two outer movements of the recorder concerto - both 'allegro non molto' - are played at the right moderate speed. The disc closes with one of Vivaldi's most famous concertos, the Concerto op. 3,11 which is given a sparkling performance.

What is disappointing is that the programme notes are largely the same as those in the original releases. Nowadays we can draw a veil over Stravinsky’s view that Vivaldi composed the same concerto six hundred times. Today this perspective has no relevance and no longer needs to be refuted.

The reissue of these two fine recordings can only be welcomed. Despite the large and ever-growing number of Vivaldi discs on the market there is still a place for this set which has easily survived the passage of time.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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