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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concertos for cello
Concerto in A minor for cello, strings and basso continuo RV420
Concerto in E flat major for cello, strings and basso continuo RV408
Concerto in F major for cello, strings and basso continuo RV411
Concerto in in D minor for cello, strings and basso continuo RV407
Concerto in F major for violin, cello, strings and basso continuo ‘Il Proteo o sia Il mondo al rovescio’, RV544
Concerto in A minor for cello, strings and basso continuo RV421
Concerto in C major for violin, two cellos, strings and basso continuo RV561
Ensemble Explorations/Roel Dieltiens
Recorded Mars 2001. Anvers, Chapelle Notre-Dame, t’Elenvld, Belgium
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901745 [70:29]

Harmonia Mundi have now released this their second volume of Vivaldi cello concertos. There are seven concertos here, five for single cello, one for violin and cello and another for violin and two cellos. In my collection I have the preceding volume of cello concertos, however the first set just isn’t in the same league as this second volume; the accounts just do not have the same enthusiasm, immediacy and bite. Incidentally, by my last estimate, Vivaldi wrote twenty-six cello concertos plus seventeen other concertos that include the cello as a joint solo instrument. Certainly there is room for several more volumes from Harmonia Mundi.

These concertos are accomplished examples of the genre and to a large extent chart Vivaldi’s development as a composer. The Concerto in A minor RV420 circa 1705 is an early piece, bearing the hallmarks of a Baroque sonata and makes sparing use of the orchestra. The more advanced style of the Concerto in D minor RV407, composed a few years later, shows how Vivaldi gives more independent treatment to the orchestra. The remaining five works most likely date from around 1718. This was really the start of an extended period of Vivaldi’s supreme creative maturity and it was seven more years before he published his masterwork: the set which included the famous ‘Four Seasons‘ known as, Il Cimento dell' Armonia e dell'Inventione, Opus 8. These remaining five concertos are characterised by a balanced alternation between colourful and individually structured ritornellos and virtuoso solos in the quicker movements. They are effectively contrasted with expansive slow central movements that feature expressive cantilenas on the solo instruments. The Concerto for violin and cello in F major ‘Il Proteo o sia Il mondo al rovescio’, RV544 and the Concerto for violin and two cellos in C major RV561 are rare for their unusual instrumentation, richness of melody and invention. They are really worth exploring.

Countless earlier pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi’s music on period instruments came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid even sterile. In the last few years the standard of period instrument performance of Vivaldi has certainly improved by leaps and bounds. This is thanks largely to a growing number of specialist chamber ensembles such as: Concerto Italiano; Venice Baroque Orchestra; Europa Galante; Arte Dei Suonatori; Il Giardino Armonico; Academia Montis Regalis; Florilegium; L’Astrée; the Freiburger Barockorchester et al. On the strength of superb recent performances I would certainly include The English Concert in this influential company now that Andrew Manze has become their director.

On the evidence of these accounts the Ensemble Explorations under direction of Belgium born cellist Roel Dieltiens are worthy of inclusion in the esteemed company of the very best period instrument groups. Like the finest contemporary period instrument consorts the players of Ensemble Explorations expertly explore and exploit the technical and expressive strengths of their period instruments rather than being restricted by the weaknesses.

Ensemble Explorations, on this recording, comprise only eight players but the magnitude and sheer quality of sound they produce is nothing short of astonishing. I particularly liked the subtle phasing which has a real sense of forward momentum often with a dancing quality. Memorable playing with admirable virtuosity and style in the allegros and in the slow movements the expressivity is profoundly felt. Baroque cellist Roel Dieltiens with extraordinary precision, produces a fine tone; exciting yet refined playing.

These intriguing and most revealing interpretations of splendid Vivaldi cello concertos enabled me to see them in a different light. This is one of my top five favourite Vivaldi recordings. Truly outstanding!

Michael Cookson

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