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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger





Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

La Cetra, op. 9 (1727)
Concerto #1 in C Major, RV 181a
Concerto #2 in A Major, RV 345
Concerto #3 in A Major, RV 345
Concerto #4 in E Major, RV 263a
Concerto #5 in A minor, RV 358
Concerto #6 in A Major, RV 348
Concerto #7 in B Flat Major, RV 359
Concerto #8 in D minor, RV 238
Concerto #9 in B Flat Major, RV 530
Concerto #10 in G Major, RV 300
Concerto #11 in C minor, RV 198a
Concerto #12 in B minor, RV 391
I Musici.
Rec: May, June, September 1964, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
PHILIPS 473 310-2 [129.40]



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Legend has it that Bach's Goldberg Variations were written to soothe the insomnia of a count. If that count had been fortunate enough to own this recording of Vivaldi's La Cetra, we would have missed out on one of the greatest works in western music. I Musici present here a plodding, boring recording that does not do justice to Vivaldi's great music. Aside from the sound - dense, with too much reverberation, and little separation among the instruments, which sometimes fade off into the distance; aside from the scoring - two violins, cello and organ, instead of a "proper" orchestra, even that of the size Vivaldi would have used; aside from the approximate technique of lead violin Felix Ayo, and his overuse of vibrato; this recording has no energy at all. It sounds as though the musicians were on medication when recording it.

Naturally, one must consider the context. Vivaldi's music was not then (the 1960s) what it is today. It was played with a romantic sound - and a violin style closer to Paganini - with obviously a different idea of what this music was about. Even the virtuoso sections of these works are merely played, not performed.

I Musici plod through this music as though merely passing time. The slow movements are especially painful to listen to; I felt like shouting out to the musicians to wake up and play the music, not just the notes. This makes the twelve concertos pass as though they were all different versions of the same work. There is hardly any change in tempo among the respective movements of the different concerti - all the first and third movements are played at the same tempo, all the middle movements at tempo number 2.

As much as I would like to find something positive to say about this recording, it is far too difficult. Take the opening movement of the 3rd concerto in G minor: this shows many of the problems. In the tutti sections, the instruments are all massed together sounding like one; in the solo sections, the orchestra - violin, cello and organ - are not enough to back up the soloist. The music sounds more like a string quartet than a concerto. The middle movement of this same concerto, which features a very slow, stepwise melody, is pedestrian and plodding. The paucity of the "orchestra" makes the accompaniment too vague, and the soloist merely plays his notes with little feeling, finding it difficult to decide how much he should stand out over the other instruments. He does change dynamics a bit, becoming more present, but there is no texture in this music - here, with no organ, it sounds vapid and skeletal. Ayo's ornamentation is all played by rote, with no inspiration as to what ornaments mean, his vibrato is annoying, and, as he fades in and out of the soundscape, I can only wonder if he wanted to be the soloist in this movement. The closing movement of this concerto, which recalls some of the tempestuous movements of the Four Seasons, lacks vigour and energy, and, again, the lack of instruments turns it into an exercise in futility.

This recording lacks pretty much everything that makes Vivaldi such a great composer: energy, vigour, creativity, and good sound. It comes out of another time when such pedestrian performances could be praised, but today this stands more as an anachronism than anything else.


Kirk McElhearn



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