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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Pastorella: Baroque Chamber Concertos from Venice
Concerto La Pastorella (The Shepherdess) for recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo in D major, RV 95 (circa 1720s)
Concerto for recorder, oboe and bassoon in G minor, RV 103
Sonata for flute, violin, cello in C major, RV 801 (circa 1710)
Concerto for recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo in G minor, RV 105
Trio for lute, violin and continuo in C major, RV 82 (circa 1729-30)
Sonata for recorder, bassoon and continuo in A minor, RV 86 (circa 1730s)
Fiori Musicali: Pamela Thorby (recorder); Gail Hennessy (oboe); Andrea Morris (violin); Katy Bircher (flute); Sally Holman (bassoon); Peter McCarthy (contrabasso); Jennifer Morsches (cello); David Miller (lute and theorbo); Penelope Rapson (director/harpsichord and organ)
rec. 5-7 Oct 2004, St. Mary’s Church, Everdon, Northamptonshire, UK. DDD
METRONOME MET CD 1061 [64:00]

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Some time after 1710 it is thought that Vivaldi devised the form of the Chamber concerto. This allowed a small group of talented players to display their virtuosity in a similar way to that of a single soloist in the Concerto form. Compared to his solo concertos with orchestra Vivaldi’s works for more than one solo instrument to a part and basso continuo represent only a small section of his output. The catalogue of Vivaldi’s works published by Peter Ryom (RV) lists some forty such compositions. Of these scores twenty-three of them are found in the extensive collection of autographed Vivaldi manuscripts held at the Bibliotec Nazionale in Turin which makes them of indisputable authenticity.

In a practical sense the Chamber concerto could be easily utilised for recreational purposes in a variety of surrounding both public and private. Vivaldi spent a considerable portion of his career as the music instructor at the Seminario musicale dell’Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. At this home for destitute and orphaned girls, Vivaldi instructed his charges in music, directed their orchestra, and wrote numerous pieces for the girls to perform. It would have made considerable practical sense for Vivaldi to have used the facilities at the Ospedale della Pieta for the performance of Chamber concertos for private concerts attended by governors, their wives and various guests.

Woodwind instruments - the recorder, flute, bassoon and oboe feature prominently in Vivaldi’s Chamber concertos and it is known that there were several skilled female woodwind players at the Ospedale della Pieta who would have undoubtedly relished the challenge to demonstrate their virtuosity. However looking further afield it is known that the crown prince Friedrich August of Saxony-Poland stayed in Venice in 1716-17 and brought with him a select group of his court musicians who would have provided an excellent nucleus for the performance of Vivaldi’s Chamber concertos. Another slightly later destination for them was the court of the distinguished Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni who was a most important patron of the arts in both Venice and in Rome.

It would be a mistake to link the Turin collection of manuscripts solely with the Vivaldi’s employment at the Ospedale; although they are closely connected. Vivaldi travelled considerably and received commissions from amateur musicians and wealthy patrons alike therefore some of his Chamber concertos were clearly intended for use further afield.

What is particularly impressive in this selection of chamber works is how Vivaldi finds such a wide variety of expression and a kaleidoscope of colours. There is a free-flowing stream of joy and invention in these works that is a testament to Vivaldi’s art.

The well-known Concerto La Pastorella (The Shepherdess) for recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo in D major, RV95 is one of only four Chamber concertos to which Vivaldi gave a descriptive title. These titles are to be considered as mood-pictures rather than descriptive narratives such as Vivaldi used in his Il Cimento dell' Armonia e dell'invenzione (The trial of harmony and invention) Opus 8 set of concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo that consists of twelve concertos, seven of which were descriptive: The Four Seasons group, Storm at Sea, Pleasure and The Hunt. The implied rusticity in the score conveyed by Vivaldi’s frequent use of pedal-notes is suggestive of bagpipes and also by subtle allusion, both melodic and rhythmic, to folk music. In La Pastorella Pamela Thorby has elected to use a period copy of an alto recorder.

Vivaldi wrote the superb Concerto for recorder, oboe and bassoon in G minor, RV 103 on three staves only and it is thought that this is a work intended for performance without basso continuo support. In terms of prominence of instrumental parts the work has a mixed character; functional and expressive. Here and in RV 86 and 105 Ms Thorby uses a period copy of a voice flute (flauto di voce) which is a type of baroque recorder pitched in D.

The Sonata for flute, violin, cello and continuo in C major, RV 801 is allocated a high RV number indicative of the fact that the work is a recent authentication; the authorship having once been attributed to G.F. Handel. The work is undoubtedly an early composition and is called a sonata not a concerto probably because it opens with a full-length slow movement whereas concertos usually commence with an allegro.

In the Concerto for recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo in G minor, RV 105 each instrument is given a particularly well defined character. Vivaldi composed the Trio for lute, violin and continuo in C major, RV 82 as one of a series for the Court of Count Johann Von Wrtby in Bohemia around 1729-30. The principal instrument in this score is the lute supported by both the violin and the basso continuo. It has been suggested that the violin part could have been designed to be played by an fine amateur player such as Count Wrtby. The Sonata for recorder, bassoon and continuo in A minor, RV 86 is the only work that Vivaldi composed for this instrumental combination. The score, described as a sonata, demands the highest virtuosity from both the recorder and the bassoon soloists and has the attributes of a concerto.

The ensemble Fiori Musicali, founded over twenty years ago, perform under the direction of their harpsichord and organist Penelope Rapson. The chamber ensemble play on instruments authentic to the period or use modern copies and employ historically aware performance practice. Although Vivaldi uses a variety of instruments in these six Chamber concertos the recorder takes centre-stage in four of the works. I have been thrilled with the playing of some very exceptional recorder performers over the years, principally Laszlo Czidra, Frans Brüggen, Laszlo Kecskemeti, Gudrun Heyens, Michala Petri, Michael Schneider, Marion Verbruggen and more recently the talented Ashley Solomon, Piers Adams and Emmanuel Pahud.

Fiori Musicali’s recorder soloist Pamela Thorby is a fine performer and an experienced teacher who has made several recordings, perhaps the best known being her acclaimed accounts of the Handel Recorder Sonatas with harpsichordist Richard Egarr on Linn Records CKD223. However on this release I do not find her on her best form. There seems to be a surprising lack of technical security as she struggles to tame her instrument and match the undoubted prowess of her fellow performers. Her performance is hindered by appearing unable to sustain her breath control during several difficult passages and at times the tone from the chosen recorders comes across to me as most unpleasant. The sound engineers have placed the recorder too close to the microphone and this certainly does the soloist no favours.

The bassoon is an instrument that is not always given the credit it deserves and it features on four of the works here. I must single out bassoonist Sally Holman for her expert solo contribution: her watertight technique and rich tone are exceptional. It is difficult not to be impressed by American oboist Gail Hennessy who features on three of the works. She is a player of the highest quality with the ability to put aside the technical demands of her period instrument and in these works exhibits virtuoso playing out of the top drawer.

Those looking for expertly performed selections of Vivaldi Chamber concertos should consider the budget recordings: “La Pastorella and other Chamber Concertos” by The Chandos Baroque Players on Hyperion Helios CDH55102 and the Six Chamber Concertos by the London Harpsichord Ensemble on Regis RRC 1037.

Fascinating and most attractive compact scores from Vivaldi but not presented at their best.

Michael Cookson



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