Vivaldi is greatly
over-rated - a dull fellow who would
compose the same form over many times.
Such is the opinion of one of the
great composers on the music of another
great composer. Given the evidence of
the present newly re-released complete
Vivaldi cello concertos incredulity
can be the only response to this assessment.
But then Stravinsky was a man who voiced
strong, often acerbic and sometimes
outrageous opinions on virtually anything
suggested to him. He had probably heard
few, if any, of these cello concertos
and irrespective would it have made
Antonio Vivaldi, "prete
rosso", the red priest - probably
so named because of his red hair - was
a prolific composer. Included in his
prodigious output are some 200 concertos
for violin and 40 for oboe. Given that
circa.1700 the cello was seldom used
a solo instrument, the 27 cello concertos
that he composed may seem diminutive
by comparison. However within the circumstances,
it is about what one would anticipate.
In Sept 1703, six months
after being ordained a priest, and at
age 25, Vivaldi joined the teaching
staff of "Ospedale della Pieta"
in Venice. This establishment was, in
essence, a church for orphan girls with
an eminent music school. In 1736 this
institution was home to an extraordinary
1,000 girls - a consequence of protracted
wars between Venice and its neighbours,
especially the Turks.
Through the excellent
orchestra and outstanding singers, the
Pieta’s pupils were able to augment
the State’s financing by holding regular
Sunday concerts. It is probably for
these pupils that Vivaldi wrote his
these concertos are short works, on
average about ten minutes long; RV 411
is only 7 minutes in length. Most are
so rarely performed as to be all but
unknown, which is lamentable given their
beauty and consistency of invention.
For those who may not be aware, "RV"
refers to the catalogue of Vivaldi’s
works – Ryom Verzeichnis - compiled
by the Danish musicologist Peter Ryom.
This boxed set of four
discs, at bargain price, presents the
complete concertos by Vivaldi with cellist
Ofra Harnoy and the Toronto Chamber
Orchestra conducted by Paul Robinson/Richard
Stamp. Commencing in 1987/88 this set
was originally released as a series
of four discrete discs.
While the "outer"
box highlights the inclusion of a 35-page
booklet in English, German and French
in reality, track listings aside, the
booklet comprises six pages repeated
three times in the respective languages.
In line with good marketing practice
and the spirit of "authentic"
performance, the glamorous photographs
of Ms. Harnoy are twenty years old
Ofra Harnoy, born in
Israel in 1965, moved to Canada at the
age of six with her family. She attended
classes with Fournier, Du Pré,
and Rostropovich. Her list of wins in
major competitions is very impressive.
She gained international fame and respect
as an outstanding cellist, but at the
height of her career withdrew in the
early 1990s to raise a family.
The Toronto Chamber
Orchestra is an ad hoc group assembled
by the conductor Paul Robinson for the
This is wonderfully
inventive music, which reflects the
creative genius of its composer. Contrary
to Stravinsky’s comments, the structure
is highly varied. It is interesting
to compare the infectious good-humoured
opening of the B flat concerto RV 423
with the C minor RV 401 and its feeling
of lamentation and contrapuntal texture.
The solo cello part of the C major concerto
RV 399 is so very different to the solo
parts of all the other concertos.
Vivaldi must have had
in mind a particularly virtuosic student
when he wrote the demanding passages
in the final movement of the D minor
concerto RV 405. In the concerto for
cello and bassoon, RV 409, the first
movement alternates soft sustained passages
for the soloist with fast outbursts
for the orchestra. Then in the second
movement Vivaldi reverses the roles;
only in the final movement do the soloist
and orchestra play in the same mood.
For those who like
to read "the last chapter first",
titillate your aural senses by first
listening to the following tracks from
disc three [5, 6, 7, 11]. These are
predominantly slow movements and like
those of Mozart and Haydn have a beauty
that words fail to convey.
The playing by Ofra
Harnoy is very musical and evinces beautiful
intonation. It is difficult to restrain
one’s foot from tapping, a sure sign
that good things are happening in the
The consecutive review
of twenty-five concertos [249:03] is
quite a marathon undertaking and is
probably better executed in four separate
sessions. On this occasion, such is
the quality of the music and its execution,
temptation to progress to the next disc
Given the number of
re-issues, anthologies, and "best-of"
collections one could be a little cynical
and interpret this re-release initiative
as nothing more than a marketing ploy.
On the contrary the dearth of Vivaldi
cello concerto recordings, particularly
as a definitive set makes this new set
a real "void filler". The
music presented here has been neglected
and ignored for far too long.
In comparison to many
modern recordings the overall sound
on these four discs is sonically a little
"flat" They do however exhibit
excellent left-right channel balance
- a virtue often not shared with modern
This set is enthusiastically
recommended for what it is - a record
of marvellously inventive music, beautifully
played by a superb cellist. It is guaranteed
to provide hours of fulfilling musical