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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Le Passioni dell'Uomo - Violin Concertos"

Enrico Casazza, violin
La Magnifica Comunità
Dir: Enrico Casazza

rec: March 2009, Conselve (Padua), Chiesa parocchiale
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697767592 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (1.43'19")
Liner-notes: E/D

Concerto for violin, strings and bc in c minor 'Il sospetto' (RV 199); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in c minor 'Amato bene' (RV 761); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D 'L'inquietudine' (RV 234); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E 'L'amoroso' (RV 271); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in e minor 'Il favorito' (RV 277); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in e minor (RV 432R) (ed. P. Queipo de Llano); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (RV 320) (ed. P. Queipo de Llano); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (RV 322) (ed. P. Queipo de Llano); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 378R) (ed. P. Queipo de Llano); Concerto for violin, strings and bc in b minor 'Per Signora Anna Maria' (RV 387)

Isabella Longo, Ulrike Slowik, Michio Isaji, David Mazzacan, Nicola Breda, violin; Massimo Piva, Alessandro Pandolfi, viola; Leonardo Sapere, cello; Rino Sante Braia, violone; Evangelina, Mascardi, Michele Pasotti, theorbo; Giorgio Fabbri, harpsichord

A considerable number of instrumental pieces by Vivaldi have titles. Many of them refer to natural phenomena, like the sea, the storm, and - most famously - the four seasons. But some concertos are expressing human emotions. Several of these are collected on this disc. It is relatively easy to recognize things like a storm or a hunting scene, but how exactly a composer translates human emotions in music without words is often much harder to discern. In his liner-notes Pablo Queipo de Llano describes how Vivaldi does that, but inevitably there are elements of speculation in his interpretation.

There are five concertos which express human emotions: Il sospetto (suspicion) (RV 199), L'inquietudine (anxiety) (RV 234), Il riposo (repose) (RV 270), Il piacere (pleasure) (RV 180), and L'amoroso (the lover) (RV 271). It is suggested the first three are meant as kind of cycle. If that is the case it is rather odd that the third, Il riposo, has not been recorded. Pablo Queipo de Llano even believes the cycle could have been planned to include a total of six concertos, Il piacere and L'amoroso being part of it. That again seems quite speculative. He is right, though, in stating that these five concertos with titles are not the only pieces which express human feelings. Other concertos could also be considered as concerti passionali, even though they don't bear any specific reference to passions.

Of the five concerti passionali only three are recorded: not only Il riposo but also Il piacere has been omitted. The three which have been recorded are very different. On the one hand we get two exuberant and theatrical pieces: the Concerto in c minor 'Il sospetto' (RV 199) and the Concerto in D 'L'inquietudine' (RV 234), on the other hand the more lyrical Concerto in E 'L'amoroso' (RV 271). The Concerto in c minor 'Amato bene' (RV 761) is close in character to Il sospetto. Its title refers to an aria from his opera La verità in cimento (RV 739); it is quite remarkable that this aria is reworked as the second movement of Il sospetto. Queipo de Llano calls the Concerto in b minor (RV 387) a concerto d'amore, even though it has no title to point into that direction. It has the addition 'Per Signora Anna Maria', who was one of Vivaldi's pupils and in whose music book a fragment of this concerto has been found.

Lastly Il favorito, the Concerto in e minor (RV 277) which opens the first disc. "The cultivated title Il favorito speaks for itself: in all likelihood, it is connected with the Emperor Charles VI's special fondness for the work, for RV 277 also appears - albeit without title - in the autograph manuscript of the La Cetra concertos, which Vivaldi personally dedicated to the Hapsburg [sic] ruler in 1728." But then it is immediately added that the authenticity of the origin of this nickname isn't established.

As far as I know all these concertos have been recorded before. That is not the case with the four concertos which are played at the second disc. These are all preserved incomplete, and can only be played after a reconstruction process. It will always be a matter of debate whether such reconstructions are worthwhile. It much depends on what exactly has come down to us and what is missing. In the case of the Concerto in g minor (RV 320) only the closing episodes of the last movements are missing, and these have been reconstructed by Queipo de Llano. He also completed the first movement of the Concerto in B flat (RV 378R). But the other two movements of this concerto are completely lost, and these have been 'reconstructed' with material from other concertos by Vivaldi. This is pure speculation, of course, because there is no indication as to how Vivaldi these movements may have intended. The reconstruction of the Concerto in g minor (RV 322) has gone even further, as here the whole solo part is missing. Also far-reaching is the reconstruction of the Concerto in e minor (RV 432R). The opening movement has been preserved with a part for transverse flute, and this part has been transposed for violin. One is inclined to ask: why? If one feels the need to reconstruct this - the other movements are lost -, then why has it to be turned into a violin concerto? The slow movement is based on material from two other concertos, whereas the whole last movement has been composed by Queipo de Llano.

Whether these reconstructions are convincing from a stylistic point of view should be left for judgement to the real experts. In general I doubt whether such drastic interventions are justified. If, as in the case of the flute concerto I just mentioned, only the first movement has been preserved, why not record it as such? And as Vivaldi's oeuvre is so large, and includes so many violin concertos, is it really necessary to make every snippet playable? Don't we have enough violin concertos?

There may be every reason to be critical about the whole reconstruction issue, there is nothing wrong with the performances. La Magnifica Comunità is an excellent ensemble, and Enrico Casazza gives immaculate accounts of the solo parts. His evocative and communicative playing brings out all the intricacies of these concertos, without ever crossing the line of good taste. I am sure every Vivaldi aficionado wants to have this set.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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