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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for Bassoon in D minor, RV 481 [10.19]*
Concerto for Oboe in A minor, RV 461 [9.10]+
Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon in G, RV 545 [11.04]*+
Concerto for Bassoon in A minor, RV 498 [11.00]*
Concerto for Oboe in C, RV 451 [10.01]+
Concerto for Bassoon in E-flat, RV 501 "La notte" [9.33]*
*Sergio Azzolini (bassoon)
+Hans Peter Westermann (oboe)
Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca
rec. Chiesa di S. Vigilio col. S. Martino, Italy, 8-9 August 2003
OPUS 111 OP 30379 [59.29]

The sound of this album takes some getting used to. The engineers adopt a close-in microphone pickup, presumably to boost the seven-strong Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca - not an unreasonable decision, and a volume cut avoids listener claustrophobia. But then, within this close perspective, the solo instruments are brought front-and-center with an absurdly exaggerated prominence. The oboe doesn't come off too badly, just larger-than-life; but the inflated, saxophonish presence of the bassoon - which we hear first - is disconcerting and rather out of scale.

The irony is that the Sonatori, who play solidly and with full-bodied tone, didn't need any help. On the credit side, they're not afraid of the music's expressive capabilities, "warming up" the harmonic shifts in RV 481 attractively, and they articulate with precision and point. Against this, their sense of style, though assured, is mostly generic - the one movement that goes with a really infectious "swing," the opening of RV 451, is unfortunately compromised by mild tempo instability - and, save in the quiet introspection of La Notte, most of the playing settles at about a mezzo forte. Keyboardist Gianpietro Rosato switches from harpsichord to organ continuo for the Largo of RV 545, to agreeable musical effect.

The concertante soloists are fine. Bassoonist Sergio Azzolini is remarkably fluent, though under such close scrutiny, he sounds like he's about to swallow his reed in the quick triplets of RV 481. Hans Peter Westermann is a sensitive oboist, briefly going sharp in the slow movement of RV 461. What is presumably an intentional cross-relation in the Largo of the double concerto is permitted to sound like a mistake here (twice!), and should have been rethought. Both soloists double the ritornelli of their respective concerti in the currently approved scholarly manner.

My various minor strictures notwithstanding, I enjoyed this disc. It reminded me of numerous chamber concerts I've heard by ad hoc ensembles in Prague's beautiful Baroque churches - with the advantage that the Sonatori are far more polished!

Stephen Francis Vasta

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