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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Six Concertos for wind and string soloists
Concerto in D for violin, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings and timpani RV 562
Concerto in D minor for 2 oboes and strings RV 535
Concerto in C for violin, 2 cellos and strings RV 561
Concerto in D minor for bassoon and strings RV481
Concerto in C for 2 oboes and strings RV 534
Concerto in D minor for 2 violins, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon and strings 566
I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone
Recorded at Chiesa di San Francesco in Schio, 26, 28 November 2002. DDD
WARNER FONIT 5050466-3293-2-5 [61:03]


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It is good to report that these days one can listen to Baroque music played on modern instruments without feeling a nagging sense of guilt. Of course, I Solisti Veneti have been doing this for years, but have now lost some of that somewhat recherché quality.

In any case, Vivaldi has always arguably been the 18th century composer who works best on modern instruments. His music has such a brilliant surface, and sometimes flirts so dangerously with vacuity, that the projection and dynamic range of modern instruments suits it down to the ground.

This recording is very easy on the ear; the balance is good, so that one can hear the details most of the time. Most of the performers, particularly those on wind instruments, play with style and flair. The music is delightful, and will make an ideal ‘follow-up’ for someone who likes the Four Seasons and wishes to explore more Vivaldi. Indeed, the C major concerto for the unusual combination of violin and two cellos is like a re-hash of the Seasons. The opening theme features a rhythm identical to the first movement of Spring, while the Largo has an expressive violin solo over pizzicato strings, much as in the middle movement of Winter.

The first three tracks are taken up with the delightful Concerto in D for violin, two oboes, two horns, strings and timpani. Very odd (to the point of downright suspicious!) to find a piece from this period in D with timps and no trumpets, but there we are. But here a major problem began to emerge. The violin playing of the principal soloist, Lucio Degani, is cloyingly romantic and lacks rhythmic poise. Linked with this, he displays a desire to hold the music up, to distort the underlying pulse to the considerable detriment of the music. This difficulty emerges elsewhere, and seems to have infected his colleagues. Chiara Parrini, for example, who takes the violin solo in the C major concerto mentioned above, plays the charming slow movement with a sweetness that spills over into camp – not nice.

On the plus side, the playing of Roberto Giaccaglia, bassoon soloist in the fine D minor solo concerto for that instrument (one of thirty-nine, no less) is very beautiful – expressive and clearly articulated at all times. Nice to hear a bassoon used for basso continuo here too. The oboists Gianni Viero and Silvano Scanziani deal splendidly with the often very florid writing in RV 534 and RV 535. A pity, then, that the beautiful slow movement of the latter is all but ruined by an entirely unnecessary meandering right-hand part that has been added by the organ continuo player. The fact that it is almost inaudible makes it, oddly, even worse; you find yourself thinking "could you pack it in please?". On the other hand, the slow movement of RV 534 is spoiled by dodgy intonation between oboes and bassoon (guilty fagottist I fear) – possibly an inadvisable early morning take with cold instruments.

The best is left to last. RV 566, with its solo line-up of two violins, two flutes, two oboes and bassoon, is utterly delightful, and characteristic of the composer at his most inventive. The finale is huge fun, with odd phrase lengths and sliding chromatic lines. I very much enjoyed the way the harpsichord continuo wittily filled in the off-beat ‘gaps’ in the tune.

An entertaining disc, then, though not one that can be recommended in an unqualified way. There are definite rough edges, yet the playing has a relaxed quality which arises from the players’ affectionate familiarity with this music and its world.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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