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

[I] "6 Concertos pour flûte"
Hugo Reyne, recorder
La Simphonie du Marais
Dir: Hugo Reyne
rec: Sept 27 - 29, 2010, Mormaison, Église catholique
Musiques à la Chabotterie - 605012 (© 2013) (60'50")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in c minor (RV 441); Concerto for recorder, 2 violins and bc in a minor (RV 108); Concerto for transverse flute [recorder], strings and bc in D, op. 10,3 'Il gardellino' (RV 428); Concerto for transverse flute [recorder], strings and bc in F, op. 10,1 'La tempesta di mare' (RV 433); Concerto for transverse flute [recorder], strings and bc in g minor, op. 10,2 'La notte' (RV 439); Concerto for transverse flute [recorder], strings and bc in a minor (RV 440); Concerto for 2 violins, cello, strings and bc in d minor, op. 3,11 (RV 565) (largo)

Jonathan Guyonnet, François Costa, Emmanuelle Barré, Joël Cartier, Ivane Lê, Hélène Lacroix, violin; Pierre Vallet, viola; Jérôme Vidaller, Hendrike ter Brugge, cello; Jean Ané, double bass; Marc Wolf, archlute

[II] "Flute Concertos"
Barthold Kuijken, Frank Theunsa, transverse flute
La Petite Bande
Dir: Sigiswald Kuijken
rec: Oct 13 - 15, 2010, Sint-Truiden, Academiezaal
Accent - ACC 24241 (© 2011) (66'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in F, op. 10,1 'La tempesta di mare' (RV 433); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in g minor, op. 10,2 'La notte' (RV 439); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D, op. 10,3 'Il gardellino' (RV 428); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in G, op. 10,4 (RV 435); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in F, op. 10,5 (RV 434); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in G, op. 10,6 (RV 437); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (RV 783); Concerto for 2 transverse flutes, strings and bc in C (RV 533)a

Annelies Decock, Ann Cnop, violin; Marleen Thiers, viola; Sigiswald Kuijken, violoncello da spalla; Benjamin Allard, harpsichord


A large part of the world is in the midst of a deep financial crisis which has its effects on any part of everyday life, not the least the cultural scene. That goes in particular for Europe which is still the centre of the performance and recording of early music. From that perspective there is every reason to question whether it makes sense to record the same repertoire over and over again. An artist will always have an argument at hand to justify his own recordings, but whether that will convince potential purchasers of discs is another matter. This seems to be quite relevant in regard to the two discs to be reviewed here. In regard to interpretation they have something in common, as we will see.

Hugo Reyne's disc is a kind of personal document. In his liner-notes he tells about his early enthusiasm for the recorder and how the meeting with Frans Brüggen in 1976 influenced his perceptions of music making and recorder playing. He then gives his views on the pieces he has chosen for this disc and the instruments he uses. This is nice to read, but for most music lovers probably not a reason to purchase this disc. Interestingly he takes distance from modern trends in performances of Vivaldi's music. "I truly believe we have to give back to Vivaldi the poetry he deserves, to respect what he wrote, and no longer distort his writing with useless effects. The escalation of Vivaldian interpretations recently gave birth to many excesses and to exaggerated versions no longer following the score."

It is not hard to agree with this statement. Over the years I have noted several times that interpreters go overboard in their attempts to be different. This could be a good argument to make a recording which avoids all these exaggerations. However, the picture is less gloomy than one may think. The concertos which Reyne has recorded are certainly available in performances which are lively and do full justice to the theatrical character of Vivaldi's music, without all kinds of extravagance.

It is understandable that a recorder player likes to perform and record Vivaldi. The problem is that he has written relatively little for his instrument, even if one includes those pieces which are intended for the transverse flute but can be played at the recorder. Some of the latter have been included here: the concertos from the opus 10.

Reyne delivers nice performances, but I didn't hear anything remarkable. You would expect Reyne to avoid any special effects. However, in the last movement of the Concerto in F, op. 10,1 "I took the liberty of adding a very violinistic cadenza, which is of course an allusion of the Four Seasons". Doesn't that fall into the category of exaggerations? "To introduce the concerto, we wanted to pay our tribute to the sea and Venice, its seagulls, pigeons, fog horns ... all done with what was at hand (breaths and instruments)". This doesn't damage the music itself, but it is an example of the kind of gags which don't make any sense and which will make purchasers of this disc wanting to skip the respective track.

The justification of the release of a recording of the concertos for transverse flute op. 10 could equally be questioned. However, to my knowledge there are not that many recordings at the market in which these concertos are all played at the transverse flute. Often several of them are played at the recorder which can be explained from the fact that most of them are reworkings of concertos which were originally scored for the recorder.

The op. 10 set was published in 1729 by Le Cène in Amsterdam, who had already published other collections of music which sold well. It is likely that he asked Vivaldi to write concertos for the transverse flute which gained in popularity at the cost of the recorder. For these concertos Vivaldi fell back on compositions which he had written earlier with a prominent role for the recorder. Only the Concerto in G, op. 10,4 seems to be originally written for this set. As Barthold Kuijken states in the liner-notes to his recording it is clear that Vivaldi himself was responsible for the reworkings. He wonders whether Vivaldi was acquainted with the flute as some of the keys are not that comfortable for the instrument.

However, he believes that these new versions are in no way inferior to the originals. "[In] actual fact the reverse is true: instrumental colouring which has been sacrificed (no oboe or bassoon) has been more than compensated for by the substantially condensed form. It is apparent that Vivaldi had a very clear-sighted view of his works and did not hesitate to rework his older compositions to adapt these extremely successfully to new demands".

In addition to the concertos op. 10 Kuijken plays two further concertos which were written in later years. For a long time the Concerto in D (RV 783) was incomplete: only the beginning of the first movement was known from the inventory of the Esterházy court chapel in Eisenstadt. In 1991 a complete version was found in Schwerin. The disc ends with the Concerto in C (RV 533) for two flutes which is written in a relatively simple style.

The concertos are played here as chamber music, with one instrument per part. In the basso continuo the harpsichord is joined by the violoncello da spallo. One should not expect spectacular performances here, as we are used to hear from Italian ensembles. In this respect Kuijken's approach is similar to Reyne's. It is true that these concertos don't give that much reason for much fuss, but I could imagine stronger contrasts in tempo and dynamics. On the other hand, Kuijken fortunately has not fallen for the temptation to exaggerate the effects in the concertos with nicknames. Instead we get refined and stylish interpretations, with particularly exquisite ornamentation in the slow movements. This disc is well fit for repeated listening.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Barthold Kuijken
La Petite Bande
La Simphonie du Marais

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