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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Six Violin Concertos for Anna Maria
Concerto in B minor, RV 387 [9:54]
Concerto in A major, RV 343 ‘Con violini d’accordatura diversa’ [9:52]
Concerto in D major, RV 229 [10:08]
Concerto in A major, RV 349 [10:44]
Concerto in D minor, RV 248 [11:34]
Concerto in B flat major, RV 366 [9:24]
L'Arte dell'Arco/Federico Guglielmo (baroque violin)
Recorded: Chiesa di S. Maria, Sovizzo, Vicenza, Italy, November 26-28, 2002 DDD
CPO 777 078-2 [62:01]

The early pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi and baroque music in general, using period-instruments, were dictated primarily by the severe limitations of their instruments. Consequently, performance style often came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile. Thankfully there are several outstanding specialist period-instrument ensembles that have come to prominence on the late-baroque scene in the last ten or so years. This new generation has successfully improved in technical proficiency permitting a much freer interpretative approach.

I would confidently nominate the premier specialist period-instrument ensembles of the new generation in this type of repertoire as the: Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini; the Venice Baroque Orchestra with Giuliano Carmignola under Andrea Marcon; Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi; Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini; The English Concert under Andrew Manze; Ensemble Explorations under Roel Dieltiens; Academia Montis Regalis under Alessandro de Marchi; Arte Dei Suonatori led by Rachel Podger and the Freiburger Barockorchester under Gottfried von der Goltz.
This is an interesting release of six of Vivaldi’s Violin concertos on the CPO label from the Padua-based ensemble L'Arte dell'Arco, under the direction of baroque violin Federico Guglielmo. Director and founder Federico Guglielmo varies the size of L'Arte dell'Arco depending on the demands of each programme from a small string trio ensemble to a thirty member orchestra. On this release L'Arte dell'Arco are trimmed down to a seven piece chamber orchestra.

The six Violin concertos are a selection taken from the so-called Quaderno Muscicale di Anna Maria dal violin that forms part of the collection of Vivaldi scores held at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory in Venice. Anna Maria (1696-1782) was the eminent violinist who found considerable fame at the Ospedale della Pietà, the Venetian charitable institution to which Vivaldi was attached for much of his career. As an infant she was accepted into the institution as a foundling and became associated with the Pietà all her life. In between the years 1720–37 Anna Maria was the principal violinist of the Pietà, who normally took the solo part in concertos and would doubtless have performed the six Violin concertos contained on this release.

Each of the concertos adheres to Vivaldi’s typical three movement Allegro-Largo- Allegro format with bountiful and original episodes of rhythm, harmony and melody. It is the expressively meditative slow movements that make the deepest impression for me and I marvel at Vivaldi’s genius of consistently delivering expression, charm and depth. All six are of a consistently high quality and will reward with repeated listening.

Baroque violinist Federico Guglielmo clearly loves this music and plays with an appealing temperament. However he cannot produce the same style and vigour in his rather sober accounts as those provided by many of his eminent new-generation contemporaries. Guglielmo’s performances had too many rough edges for my taste. In particular he seemed to run out of stream on track 4 between points 2:02 to 2.20. On track 7 from points 2:40 to 3:17 his tone appeared less than silvery and on track 8 the solo work came across as most variable in quality. All is not lost: he is heard at his very best in track 9 with imperious playing between points 2:04 to 3:26. I especially liked the colour and variety of the chosen basso-continuo of the harpsichord blended together with double-bass and theorbo.

The sound quality provided by the CPO engineers is warm and most natural. Congratulations are in order for the excellent booklet notes from Federico Guglielmo: most interesting and highly informative.

The works on this recording remind one that Anna Maria must have been a most remarkable performer. Lovers of the late-baroque music of Vivaldi might want to explore this CPO release but overall the result is disappointing. There are however many excellent recordings available of similar repertoire from the new generation of period-instrument ensembles that will undoubtedly delight.

Michael Cookson



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