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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): La Stravaganza, op. 4

[I] "La Stravaganza"
Fabio Biondi, violin; Maurizio Naddeo, celloaa
Europa Galante
Dir: Fabio Biondi
rec: Dec 17 - 23, 2008, Parma, Monasterio di San Giovanni Evangelista (library)
Virgin Classics - 5193002 (© 2011) (56'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

[II] "La Stravaganza"
La Pastorella
Dir: Frédéric De Roos
rec: Feb 2009, Beausfays, Église Saint-Jean l'évangeliste
Ricercar - RIC 288 (© 2009) (56'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Concerto in B flat, op. 4,1 (RV 383a)ab; Concerto in e minor, op. 4,2 (RV 279)a; Concerto in G, op. 4,3 (RV 301)b; Concerto in a minor, op. 4,4 (RV 357)ab; Concerto in A, op. 4,5 (RV 347)b; Concerto in g minor, op. 4,6 (RV 316a)b; Concerto in F, op. 4,9 (RV 284)ab; Concerto in D, op. 4,11 (RV 204)ab; Concerto in F (RV 291)a; Concerto in F 'Il Proteo o sia Il mondo al rovescio' (RV 544)aa

[II] Frédéric De Roos, recorder; Benoît Laurent, oboe; Mira Glodeanu, violin; Alain De Rijckere, bassoon; Philippe Malfeyt, theorbo, guitar; Guy Penson, harpsichord, organ

The titles of these two discs suggest they both present the complete collection of twelve concertos by Antonio Vivaldi which was published in 1714/15 in Amsterdam as opus 4. That is not the case: they contain a selection from these concertos, and their scoring is quite different as we shall see.

Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante have recorded five of the 12 concertos. They haven't made an arbitary choice: these five were printed by John Walsh in London in 1728. His publications were directed towards the musical societies which were active in many English towns. It is unlikely they had players in their ranks who were able to play the really virtuosic solo parts in some of the concertos from opus 4. So Walsh chose those concertos whose solo parts are technically not too demanding.

Vivaldi's music didn't quite enjoy the popularity of Corelli's Concerti grossi, though. The latter went down very well with the British music lovers and were still played in the next century. In his liner-notes Simon Heighes refers to several English composers who sharply criticized Vivaldi's concertos for concentrating too much on virtuosity and melody at the cost of harmony and counterpoint. Charles Avison, for instance, ranked the works of Vivaldi - alongside those of Locatelli - among the "lowest class". And his colleague William Hayes called Italian solo concertos "flashy, frothy Trifles", but interestingly making an exception for Vivaldi.

In his edition Walsh included the Concerto in F (RV 291). His edition is the only source for this concerto, and therefore scholars haven't been able to confirm its authenticity. In addition to the complete edition of Walsh Europa Galante play the Concerto in F (RV 544), in which the violin and the cello are treated on equal terms, although the latter is mostly imitating the motifs of the former.

The style of playing of Fabio Biondi and his ensemble is well-known. There is no lack of brilliance in the performance of the solo parts as well as of the tutti. The fast movements are mostly played very fast. Sometimes they are dangerously close to the infamous 'sewing machine' style of the pre-authentic era, for instance in the opening movement of the Concerto in B flat (RV 383a). On the other hand the players are able to create wonderful moments of expression, like in the 'grave e sempre piano' from the Concerto in a minor (RV 357. The double concerto is also beautifully executed, with Fabio Biondi and Maurizio Naddeo as equal partners in the solo parts.

Frédéric De Roos and his ensemble La Pastorella have chosen seven concertos from this collection. These are not played in the original scoring but in arrangements for recorder, oboe, violin and bc. De Roos argues that several of Vivaldi's concertos exist in various versions, for instance as a concerto for a solo instrument, strings and basso continuo and as a concerto da camera for two or three instruments and bc. The concertos for transverse flute, strings and bc which were published as Vivaldi's opus 10, for instance, are all reworkings of concerti da camera. Because of that there is no real objection to this procedure of arranging the concertos from opus 4 for the scoring of this ensemble. The only matter is whether it works.

In most cases it does. The solo parts are allocated to either of the treble instruments, and in most pieces they share the solo part. In some movements the solo line is so strongly violinistic that it has to be played by the violin. And such cases reveal the limitations of this procedure as in concerti da camera the treble instruments are usually treated more equally than is sometimes possible in these arrangements. An example is the closing allegro from the Concerto in g minor, op. 4,6 (RV 316a). Also less convincing is the Concerto in a minor, op. 4,4 (RV 357). The grave e sempre piano is not as expressive as in Biondi's performance, and in the closing allegro the recorder and the oboe are dynamically a bit overstretched.

Otherwise it doesn't make sense to compare the two interpretations as the scorings are too different. On the whole these arrangements of La Pastorella are a nice extension of the repertoire for this combination of instruments, and the playing of the ensemble is very fine. This is not just another Vivaldi disc but a real addition to the catalogue.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Europa Galante

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