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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): Concertos

[I] "The Four Seasons"
Zsolt Kalló, violin
Capella Savaria
Dir: Zsolt Kalló
rec: May 18 - 20, 2013, Szombathely, Bartók Concert Hall
Hungaroton - HCD 32729 (© 2013) (59'06")
Liner-notes: E/D/H
Cover & track-list

Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E, op. 8,1 'La primavera' (RV 269); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor, op. 8,2 'L'estate' (RV 315); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F, op. 8,3 'L'autunno' (RV 293); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in f minor, op. 8,4 'L'inverno' (RV 297); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D (RV 222); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in d minor (RV 237)

Beáta Szóke, János Császár, Zsuzsanna Tamás, Balász Bozzai, Emóke Szép, Györgyi Vörös, Imre Simkó, Györgyi Bognár, violin; Gábor Rác, Judit Orosz, viola; Csilla Vályi, Ágnes Pálkövi, cello; László Feriencsik, bassoon; György Janzó, double bass; Attila Völgyi, lute; Tamás Szekendy, harpsichord

[II] "Concerti per violino"
Giorgio Sassoa, Paolo Perroneb, violin
Insieme Strumentale di Roma
Dir: Giorgio Sasso
rec: Oct 2011, Rome, Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Panisperna
Stradivarius - Str 33944 (© 2013) (68'38")
Liner-notes: E/I/S
Cover & track-list

Concerto for strings and bc in C (RV 113)e; Concerto for strings and bc in D (RV 123); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in d minor (RV 240)ace; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F (RV 287)ac; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (RV 321)ac; Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in C (RV 508)abcd; Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in g minor (RV 517)abcd

Giorgio Sasso, Paolo Perrone, Gabriele Politic, Gian Claudio Del Morod, violin; Teresa Ceccato, viola; Diego Roncalli, cello; Luca Cola, double bass; Salvatore Carchiolo, harpsichord; Marco Silvi, organe

[III] "Concerto a due organi"
Silvio Celeghina, Margherita Gianolab, organ; Luca Maresc, Matteo Marzarod, violin
Accademia di San Rocco
Dir: Francesco Fanna
rec: Oct 15 - 18, 2012, Venice, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Stradivarius - Str 33951 (© 2013) (57'50")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto for harpsichord [organ] in C (BWV 976) (after Vivaldi, Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E, RV 265)a; Concerto for harpsichord [organ] in G (BWV 973) (after Vivaldi, Concerto for violin, strings and bc in G, RV 299)b; Antonio VIVALDI: Concerto a due cori for 2 organs, 2 violins, strings and bc in F (RV 584) (fragm)abcd; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in g minor, op. 10,2 'La notte' (RV 439), arr E.M. Bellotti for 2 organsab; Concerto for organ, violin, strings and bc in d minor (RV 541)ac; Concerto for organ, violin, strings and bc in F (RV 542)bc

Massimiliano Simonetto, Vania Pedroneto, Alessandra Scatola, Emanuele Marcante, violin; Alessandra Di Vincenzo, Meri Skejic, viola; Alessandra Boldrin, Alan Dario, cello; Luca Stevanato, Piero Gianolli, double bass; Ivano Zanenghi, lute

Scores Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi composed music for almost any instrument in vogue in his time. The number of compositions for a specific instrument seem to reflect the availability of skilled players, especially in the Ospedale della Pietŕ in Venice. He also wrote music for virtuosos elsewhere, for instance at the court of his Bohemian patron, Count Wenzel of Morzin. However, the violin takes first place in his oeuvre as he himself was one of the greatest virtuosos of his time. A number of these concertos were printed, among them Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione as his op. 8. This indicates that their technical requirements are relatively moderate: the publication of virtuosic music wouldn't make any sense from an economical point of view.

Among these twelve concertos op. 8 we find four which have become very famous: Le quattro stagioni or 'the Four Seasons'. The main task for the performer is to bring out the effects Vivaldi has included in order to illustrate the features associated with the various seasons and which he described in the sonnets which precede each of the four concertos. They belong to Vivaldi's most popular works and consequently are available in many recordings. I haven't heard them all, and as there are so many on the market it doesn't make sense to compare the performance by Zsolt Kalló and the Capella Savaria with any other specific interpretation. I have greatly enjoyed these performances. The effects are effectively explored but Kalló never falls into the trap of trying to do too much and laying it on too thick. Over the years I have heard performers who tried too hard to be different and as a result their performances were way over the top. There is no hint of that here: there is plenty of room for subtleness and beauty of sound. The Cappella Savaria plays with eight violins, two violas and cello plus basso continuo. It is hard to say how large orchestras at Vivaldi's time were.The size was probably variable depending on the place and occasion of performance. The participation of a bassoon in the basso continuo is more questionable.

The more Vivaldi's music has raised the interest of performers the more parts of his oeuvre have been discovered. That has resulted in quite a number of recordings of violin concertos which have been preserved in manuscript. Most of them are technically more demanding than those which were printed in Vivaldi's lifetime. Despite the growing number of recordings many of these concertos are hardly known. That also goes for the two concertos which Kalló has added to his programme. These bear witness to the skills of Vivaldi as a violinist. However, they also tell us something about the capabilities of the German violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisendel who met Vivaldi in Venice in 1716 and was probably his pupil for some time. However, it seems that Vivaldi considered Pisendel more as a colleague than as a pupil. He dedicated some sonatas and solo concertos to him, among them the Concerto in d minor (RV 237). Especially the first movement includes a brilliant solo part. Kalló delivers an impressive performance and he does the same in the Concerto in D (RV 222). Here I liked in particular the free treatment of the tempo in the last movement.

Giorgio Sasso and his ensemble Insieme Strumentale di Roma put together an interesting programme of lesser-known pieces by Vivaldi. One of the solo concertos (RV 287) is claimed to have been recorded here for the first time, and the other concertos are also not very familiar. The same goes for the two concertos for two violins, a category within Vivaldi's oeuvre which is relatively neglected. The so-called ripieno concertos, for strings and bc without solo parts, are better known, but as Vivaldi wrote a considerable number of such pieces a large part isn't played and recorded that often. Listening to this disc one is struck by Vivaldi's versatility in the treatment of the solo parts but also of the ripieni, and the way he connects them. The opening movement from the Concerto in d minor (RV 240) is notable for its harmony, and especially the inclusion of a descending chromatic motif. The opening allegro from the Concerto in F (RV 287) is quite dramatic as various phrases are followed by general pauses. The largo is for violin and bc alone, without tutti strings. In the slow movement from the Concerto in C (V 508) it is the other way round: the two solo violins are accompanied by the tutti violins and the violas, without the participation of the basso continuo.

This concerto belongs to a group of concertos with two solo violin parts. Vivaldi wrote 28 of them, but these are not often performed. It is not entirely clear why Vivaldi has written them. Some may have been composed for performances at the Ospedale della Pietŕ, but others are so technically demanding that they only can be played by highly-skilled performers. It has been suggested that Vivaldi may have played them with his father, Giovanni Battista, a professional violinist and probably Antonio's only formal teacher. The two concertos played by Giorgio Sasso and Paolo Perrone are certainly demanding and also include various notable features. One of them is the remarkably dominant role of counterpoint in the Concerto in g minor (RV 517) whose fast movements include several fugues.

Sasso and his colleagues deliver good and stylish performances. They pay full attention to the virtuosic features of these concertos as well as the expression in the slow movements, without crossing the line of good taste. The tempi are well chosen but never exaggerated. Only here and there I found the tone of the solo violins a little less polished than would be ideal, but that is of little importance considering the overall level of these performances. The ensemble is much smaller than the Capella Savaria, and I prefer that, but that is probably more a matter of personal taste than based on historical evidence.

Lastly, a disc with music for organ. It is remarkable that Vivaldi, who composed for almost any instrument of his time, has written little for the keyboard, either the organ or the harpsichord. Only in a small number of concertos the organ has a solo part. These have been recorded before, but they belong to the lesser-known part of Vivaldi's oeuvre. One of the assets of this recording is the use of two original 18th-century organs - large organs instead of chamber organs which are mostly used for the basso continuo. On the other hand it is regrettable that not Vivaldi's complete output of pieces with a solo part for the organ has been recorded. Only one of the two concerti a due cori has been recorded: the Concerto in F (RV 584) which has been preserved incomplete: only the first movement is extant. Also omitted are the Concerto in C (RV 554a), the Concerto in c minor (RV 766) and the Concerto in F (RV 767) as well as the Sonata in C (RV 779) for violin, oboe, organ and chalumeau ad libitum.

Instead we get two of Johann Sebastian Bach's harpsichord transcriptions of concertos by Vivaldi. That is regrettable, first of all because these have little to do with the subject of this disc, Vivaldi's music with solo organ. Secondly, these works are rather well-known and available in various recordings, although mostly played at the harpsichord rather than the organ. The latter is certainly legitimate. Thirdly, Italian organs don't really fit Bach's organ idiom: the organs which Bach used to play showed more French influences than Italian. Especially in the opening and closing episodes of the largo from the Concerto in C (BWV 976) Silvio Celeghin uses registers Bach certainly did not know. The last item in the programme is a transcription for two organs of Vivaldi's Concerto in g minor 'La Notte' (RV 439). Organists should be encouraged to follow in Bach's footsteps and transcribe concertos by Vivaldi or other Italian masters, but I feel that this particular concerto is not that well suited for such an approach. The programmatic effects don't quite come off and in particular the moments of subtlety don't fare well in this transcription. The playing is outstanding, though, and that also goes for Bach's transcriptions.

The performances of the original concertos are very good which makes it all the more regrettable that the other compositions with solo organ are omitted. But as these two historical organs give a special colour to these interpretations this disc can be recommended.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Silvio Celeghin
Accademia di San Rocco
Capella Savaria
Insieme Strumentale di Roma

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