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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Pellegrina’s Delight: Sonatas and chamber music for oboe

Sonata in C minor for oboe and basso continuo (harpsichord and cello) RV 53 (c. 1716-17)
Sonata in C major for violin, oboe, obbligato organ and bassoon RV 779 (c. 1708)
Sonata in G minor for oboe and basso continuo (harpsichord and bassoon) RV 28
Trio sonata in E minor Op. 1 No. 2, for oboe, violin and basso continuo (harpsichord and cello) RV 67 (c. 1705)
Concerto in C minor for oboe, violin and bassoon with basso continuo (organ and violone) RV 106 (c.1720)
Sonata in B flat major for oboe and basso continuo (harpsichord and bassoon) RV 34
Sonata in C minor for oboe, violin, bassoon and basso continuo (harpsichord and violone) RV 801 (c.1715-20)
Gail Hennessey (baroque oboe)
Nicholas Parle (harpsichord and organ)
Rodolfo Richter (violin)
Sally Holman (bassoon)
Katherine Sharman (cello)
Peter McCarthy (violone)
Rec. St. Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucester, England, 19-22 November 2002 DDD


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This release ’Pellegrina’s Delight’ is a joy from start to finish and a testament to Vivaldi’s undoubted genius. It is good to have this wonderful disc of Vivaldi works imaginatively themed around the oboe and a most welcome change too from yet another version of the ubiquitous ‘Four Seasons‘!

It is easy to forget just how popular the oboe was in Vivaldi’s time when it was the principal woodwind instrument and was often used for solo display. We are informed in the excellent booklet notes that Vivaldi inscribed his autographed manuscript of the Sonata in C major, RV 779 with the names of his four chosen female performers from the Ospedale della Pieta, in Venice. The soloist who played the oboe was named Pellegrina, hence the artistic subtitle ’Pellegrina’s Delight’ given to this Signum release.

The Sonata in C minor for oboe and basso continuo RV 53 was the only work that Vivaldi composed purely as a solo work for the oboe. The six other works on this release use the oboe as part of a small combination of solo instruments or are works usually played by solo violin(s), where it is thought that Vivaldi may have equally intended them to performed by the oboe or another appropriate solo instrument.

What is particularly impressive in this selection of chamber works is how Vivaldi finds a wide variety of expression and a kaleidoscope of colours. There is a free-flowing stream of joy and invention with the additional benefit of memorable tunes. All the chosen works on the release are really exceptional, however I must single out the remarkable and appealing Sonata in C major for oboe, organ, violin and bassoon, RV 779 for special praise. The interplay of the quartet of instruments is impressive and Vivaldi excels himself with the imaginative blend of variety, tone colour and lyricism. I just love Vivaldi’s inspired use of the baroque organ in the score that so reminded me of a fair-ground organ.

All the performers play period instruments and are specialists in early-music performance being members of more authentic instrument ensembles than you could shake a stick at. Only the American Gail Hennessy on the baroque oboe and Australian Nicholas Parle, the organist and harpsichordist feature on all seven works. Hennessey is an oboist of the utmost quality, as can be heard in the largo section of the Sonata in G minor, RV 28, on track 11, point 01:36, where she shrugs aside the technical demands of her period instrument and exhibits virtuoso playing of the highest order. The baroque organ and harpsichord playing is also out of the top-drawer. Just listen to Parle’s performance of skill and technical mastery in the andante of the Sonata in C major, RV 779 on track 5, point 03:02. In fact, the credentials of all the players are most impressive. Only the other evening at a BBC Promenade Concert, violinist Rodolfo Richter could be seen leading the combined orchestral forces of the Academy of Ancient Music, The English Concert and the Royal Academy of Music.

The performance of the ensemble players is a delight, so intensely alive with a feeling of the real joy of music making. At times it sounds and feels like there is a full baroque orchestra playing, not just four players as heard in the andante of the Sonata in G major, RV 779 on track 5, point 00:20. What immediately strikes me is how clear and rich the finely tuned period instruments sound, particularly the plangent tone of Gail Hennessy’s baroque oboe, which can be heard to great effect in the adagio of the Sonata in C minor, RV 53, on track 1, point 00:25. Vivaldi’s writing is superb and although the adage states that music cannot be played better than what it is, the players almost succeed.

This a release to savour and the leading candidate for both my baroque and chamber record of the year. A special recording which I recommended with my strongest advocacy.

Michael Cookson

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