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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
L'Estro Armonico, op. 3 (1711)
No. 1 in D major RV 549
No. 2 in G minor RV 550
No. 3 in G major RV 551
No. 4 in E minor RV 552
No. 5 in A major RV 553
No. 6 in A minor RV 554
No. 7 in F major RV 555
No. 8 in A major RV 556
No. 9 in D major RV 557
No. 10 in B minor RV 558
No. 11 in D minor RV 559
No. 12 in E major RV 560
L'Arte dell'Arco, Christopher Hogwood
Federico Gugliemo, maestro al violino
Rec: March 2002, Sala della Musica, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy.
CHANDOS CHAN 0689(2) [103.18]
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The twelve l'estro armonico concertos, op. 3, are perhaps the high point of this set. Scored for a small string orchestra (basically an augmented string quartet - four violins, two violas, cello and double bass - there are works featuring a solo violin, two violins and four violins) and continuo, they are in the concerti grossi style, combining elements of the Roman and Venetian styles prevalent in the early eighteenth century. These concertos contain a wealth of musical variety, both in terms of melody and in the way the different instruments combine. Their popularity was immediate and widespread - the seminal influence of these works was such that they laid the groundwork for the 18th century concerto. Composers all across Europe came to know them. Even Bach, who made few such transcriptions of other composers' works, transcribed five of them for solo harpsichord, and one for four harpsichords and orchestra.

The works themselves are generally lively and expressive, with a variety of melodic styles, ranging from the typically Vivaldian (the allegro of the Concerto no. 2 in G minor), with repeated notes that recall the Four Seasons, to the almost French-sounding allegro of Concerto no. 9 in D major. Vivaldi set out the ground rules for the concerto in the set of works; it can be seen as a kind of guidebook to the concerto form for future composers.

Christopher Hogwood's recording of these works breaks no new ground. These performances are spirited and energetic, with the clean, crisp sound and texture of authentic instruments. Comparing this set with Trevor Pinnock's recordings on Archiv shows little difference, aside from the pitch. Curiously, Hogwood records these concertos at A=440, as opposed to a more "baroque" pitch.

Federico Gugliemo, the lead violinist, is an excellent performer. You can hear how well he has mastered the Vivaldian idiom, especially in the lively final movement of the 8th concerto. His interplay between staccato strokes and legato passages gives a full range of colour to these works. At times his violin sounds a bit harsh, and this will deter those listeners who don't care for the 'green' sound of baroque violins (his is a copy of a Guadagnini). But listening to his moving performance of the solo section of the 9th concerto makes it all worthwhile.

This recording suffers from a slight lack of depth. At a time when too many recordings have artificial reverberation added the light reverb on this set seems to dull by comparison. Yet at higher volumes, the sound comes alive and fills out the aural picture.

While this set is well performed, with a group of excellent musicians, it lacks the energy that would set it apart from so many other Vivaldi recordings. Perhaps after hearing Fabio Biondi's hyper-energetic interpretations of Vivaldi, I find others bland? If you don't like Biondi's recordings, though, you may appreciate this set more.

Kirk McElhearn

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