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[A] Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Concerti per viola d'amore"
Fabio Biondi, viola d'amore; Giangiacomo Pinardi, lutea
Europa Galante
Dir: Fabio Biondi

rec: January 11 - 14, 2004/May 17 - 19, 2006, Parma (I), Fondazione Teatro Regio di Parma (Auditorium Paganini)
Virgin Classics - 3 95146 2 (© 2005/2007) (77'13")

[B] Antonio VIVALDI: "Concerto rustico"
Academia Montis Regalis
Dir: Alessandro de Marchi

rec: Nov 10 - 14, 2005, Mondovi, La Sala Ghislieri
Berlin Classics - 0017822BC (© 2006) (59'55")

[A] Concerto for viola d'amore, 2 horns, 2 oboes, bassoon and bc in F (RV 97); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in D (RV 392); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in d minor (RV 393); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in d minor (RV 394); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in d minor (RV 395); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in A (RV 396); Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in a minor (RV 397); Concerto for viola d'amore, lute, strings and bc in d minor (RV 540)a
[B] Concerto alla rustica for strings and bc in G (RV 151); Concerto for lute, 2 violins and bc in D (RV 93)d; Concerto for 2 oboes, strings and bc in d minor (RV 535)b; Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in c minor (RV 441)a; Concerto for viola d'amore, lute, strings and bc in d minor (RV 540)cd; Concerto for viola d'amore, strings and bc in D (RV 392)c

[AMR] soli: Maria de Martini, recordera; Paolo Pollastri, Gilberto Caserio de Almeida, oboeb; Alessandro Tampieri, viola d'amorec; Francesco Romano, luted

The programme notes of the disc devoted to Vivaldi's concertos for viola d'amore begin with a quotation of someone who attended a performance of Antonio Vivaldi in Cento in 1717. "On this day, a remarkable opportunity presented itself: one of the foremost violinists of Venice, a certain Dr Antonio Vivaldi - a famous composer who in addition to the violin also plays a kind of viola with twelve strings, known as the viola d'amore - happened to be passing through here, and was intending to play the latter instrument at Vespers in the above-mentioned church, which was so packed that people were practically coming to blows in their efforts to gain entrance and the crowd spilled out halfway across the street. He played (...) in such an exquisite manner that I have never heard its like since".

One may be surprised to learn that Vivaldi played the viola d'amore which was generally appreciated because of its sweet sound and often associated with night - in short, an instrument most suitable to play music of a rather intimate and introspective kind. And that is not what one immediately associates with Vivaldi, in particular with the often very virtuoso violin concertos in mind. Whether at that time the viola d'amore was already in decline as Olivier Fourès states in the booklet is doubtful. Even Leopold Mozart (1756) mentions the instrument and many viole d'amore have been preserved - also from the 18th century -, suggesting it was very much in demand.

But it is true that the repertoire for the viola d'amore is limited - at least as far as we know. From that angle it is remarkable that Vivaldi didn't write less than eight concertos with viola d'amore: seven with strings and bc, one of which with an additional solo part for the lute, and one concerto da camera for viola d'amore, 2 horns, 2 oboes, bassoon and bc. Listening to these concertos one immediately notes that there isn't much difference between the viola d'amore concertos and the violin concertos. Vivaldi's concertos for the viola d'amore must belong to the most virtuoso of the baroque era. Many techniques which he applies in his violin concertos are also present here. It is only in the slow movements that one is reminded of the viola d'amore's reputation as a sweet sounding instrument.

As one would expect Fabio Biondi exploits the virtuoso character of the concertos to the full, and he meets the challenges with ease. At the same time he doesn't fail to shed light on the expressive qualities of the concertos, in particular in the slow movements. He and his ensemble give splendid performances which make this one of the most exciting Vivaldi records of late.

The second disc also contains two of the concertos Fabio Biondi has recorded. The performances are good but not as captivating as Biondi's. There are two things, though, which deserve some criticism. First of all, in the fast movements oboes are playing colla parte with the strings. I don't see any reason for this, and in the booklet no arguments are given for it. Secondly, in the first movement a cadenza is played - there is nothing wrong with that, but the cadenza is far too long and stylistically it crosses the border of what can be considered 'baroque'. The alternative cadenza for this concerto which closes the disc is just as long and stylistically just as dubious. I don't think music of this quality needs such tricks to become more interesting. In fact, the effect is just the opposite. The work which opens the programme is one of a number of Concerti alla rustica - which gave the disc its title. In this concerto we also get the oboes playing colla parte - why?

The recorder concerto is one of the best-known pieces by Vivaldi and is available in many recordings. It is well played here, but no reason to buy this disc. The same is true for almost all other pieces in the programme. That leads me to question the raison d'être of this disc. What is the point of producing discs with the same music over and over? There is a lot of Vivaldi's music which is far less known and ensembles are well advised to concentrate on that part of Vivaldi's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Academia Montis Regalis
Europa Galante

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