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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concertos for the Emperor
Concerto No. 2 in C major for violin, strings and basso continuo RV189
Concerto No. 10 L’amoroso in E major for violin, strings and basso continuo RV271
Concerto No. 3 in C minor for violin, strings and basso continuo RV202
Concerto No. 7 in C major for violin, strings and basso continuo RV183
Concerto No. 11 Il favorito in E minor for violin, strings and basso continuo RV277
Concerto No. 4 in F major for violin, strings and basso continuo RV286
The English Concert/Andrew Manze (violin)
Recorded: February 15-17, 2004 at the Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907332 [78:52]


In the last couple of years there has been an abundance of outstanding recorded interpretations that demonstrate Vivaldi’s genius for richness of orchestral palette, sheer poetic energy and colossal musical invention. Should there be any detractors who still harbour doubts about Vivaldi’s genius they should listen to this outstanding release.

It turns out that Vivaldi wrote more than one collection of the Opus 9 set of twelve Concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo; the set entitled La cetra (The lyre). In addition to the set that was published in 1728 and dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, another set, which was a manuscript copy, was presented to the Monarch. It was only in the 1970s that musicologist Michael Talbot discovered, whilst researching in the Austrian National Library in Vienna, that but for the B minor violin concerto RV580 the two manuscripts of La cetra were completely different. The solo parts of the Monarch’s personal set were unfortunately lost and Andrew Manze and The English Concert have recorded here, for the first time, the six concertos which have been constructed from alternative sources.

Undoubtedly the earlier pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi and Baroque music in general using period-instruments were dictated by the severe limitations of their instruments. Consequently the performance style often came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile. In the last few years the standard of authentic instrument performance has improved by leaps and bounds thanks largely to a new generation of authentic instrument exponents that have come to prominence on the early music scene. These ‘new kids on the block’ have successfully ratcheted-up the level of technical proficiency and interpretation standard by several notches - rediscovering, exploring and exploiting the strengths of their period instruments rather than being restricted and cowed by the weaknesses. In this type of repertoire the outstanding specialist period instrument chamber orchestras are currently the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini; the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon; Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi; Il Giardino Armonico; Academia Montis Regalis under Alessandro de Marchi; Florilegium; L’Astrée; Arte dei Suonatori; Ensemble Explorations under Roel Dieltiens and the Freiburger Barockorchester under Gottfried von der Goltz.

In the 2003-4 season Manze took up the position as Associate Director of The English Concert. In my opinion their development is such that I would now rank these talented players alongside the premier league of the new generation of period instrument ensembles. Manze’s virtuoso playing has a highly controlled power which is expertly blended with a gracious sophistication and considerable panache. There is an improvisatory freedom that draws uninhibitedly on a rich, varied and colouristic palate. The English Concert demonstrate their impeccable credentials with a flexible and committed performance that fully matches Vivaldi’s expressive scope. A real bonus is the imaginative utilisation and the luxuriant sonorities of a combination of archlute, baroque guitar, theorbo and harpsichord that provides a robust and diverse basso continuo.

I must single out the innovative violin concerto No.3 in C minor RV202 for special praise. This daring, intensely passionate and rather unusual concerto reveals itself as a true masterpiece and would make a welcome change from the four concertos that comprise the ubiquitous Four Seasons.

The Harmonia Mundi sound engineers have produced excellent sonics and the annotation is interesting and informative. These are superlative accounts to cherish!


Michael Cookson



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