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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Mandolin Concertos

Concerto for 2 mandolins, strings and bc in G* (RV 532) [12:21]
Concerto for mandolin, strings and bc in C (RV 425) [08:27]
Concerto for 2 transverse flutes, 2 chalumeaus, 2 violins ‘in tromba marina’, 2 mandolins, 2 theorbos, cello, strings and bc in C* (RV 558) [11:47]
Concerto for mandolin, strings and bc in D (RV 93) [10:37]
Ugo Orlandini, Dorina Frati (*), mandolin
I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone
Recorded in 1984. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61264 2 [43:13]

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The mandolin doesn't hold an important place in today's music life. It doesn't frequently appear on the concert platform, and not many compositions for mandolin are recorded. The best-known classical music for mandolin is by Vivaldi, in particular the concertos recorded here.

One of the reasons for the small attention the instrument enjoys is that it isn't taken that seriously. The mandolin is often associated with rather light-weight music written for entertainment.

But that wasn't always the case. From the middle of the 16th century onwards the mandolin was part of large and small instrumental ensembles. And at the end of the 17th century it was used in chamber music, cantatas, oratorios and operas. In the 18th century the mandolin started to be treated as a solo instrument, when composers wrote solo concertos and sonatas for the instrument.

It wasn't an instrument for the lower classes as well. Vivaldi's protector in Ferrara, the Marquis of Bentivoglio, played the mandolin, as is proven by a letter Vivaldi wrote to him.

It seems tempting to believe that Vivaldi wrote his compositions for mandolin for the Marquis, but there seems to be very little evidence of that. For exactly what reason Vivaldi composed the concertos on this disc is still unclear. There is little doubt that the Ospedale in Venice did possess at least one mandolin.

It seems the Concerto in C (RV 425) dates from the same period during which the oratorio Juditha Triumphans was composed (1716). There the mandolin is used to accompany Juditha in the aria 'Transit aetas'. It is thought that around 1740 the Ospedale possessed two mandolins. This could explain why the Concerto in C (RV 558), which dates from 1740, contains two mandolin parts. The Concerto in G (RV 532), which is also written for two mandolins, could date from the same time.

The recording was originally made in the 1980s, when performances with modern instruments were still the norm. But at that time there were already many recordings of Vivaldi's music on period instruments, played with period techniques. From this recording one has to conclude that I Solisti Veneti, for all its undeniable qualities and its admirable efforts to contribute to the popularity of Vivaldi's music, missed the opportunity to keep in touch with the developments in the interpretation of baroque music.

That is not to say that these performances are bad or boring. I am sure that still many people enjoy this kind of playing, and it is great that they are offered the opportunity to grab these recordings at budget price.

But for those used to more up-to-date interpretations, like those of Il Giardino Armonico, too much is missing to make this disc really interesting.

There are some aspects which I find especially difficult to deal with. The orchestra is pretty large - at least by the sound of it, since the players are not listed - and the mandolins are barely audible once the full orchestra is stepping in.

The other point is that all notes get their full length. There is no differentiation between them, and that makes these performances rather flat.

What I dearly miss is the theatrical character which is such an important feature of Italian instrumental music of that time. And one of the features of Vivaldi's music is the rhythmic drive, and that is what is mostly absent here.

This recording is certainly not my cup of tea, but for those who enjoy the kind of performances which were in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s this disc is a worthy addition to their collection.

Johan van Veen

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