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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Six Flute Concertos (c.1728): No. 1 in F major RV 433 ‘La tempesta di monte’ [7:04]; No. 2 in G minor RV 439 ‘La notte’ [8:35]; No. 3 in D RV 428 ‘Il Gardellino’ [9:36]; No. 4 in G RV435 [7:12]; No. 5 in F RV 434 [8:35] No. 6 in G RV 437 [8:04]
From ‘L’Estro Armonico’ (with violin): No. 11 in D minor RV 565; [9:40] No. 10 in B minor RV 580 [10:03]
Judith Hall (flute); Jaime Laredo (violin)
Divertimenti of London; Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Paul Barritt
rec. Henry Wood Hall, 1991 (Flute Concertos); 1986 (L’Estro Armonico)
REGIS RRC 1243 [68.55]

The contents of this Regis disc were originally released in the early 1990s. Despite its age it has mostly come up fresh and bright and clean in sound and balance; the flute concertos sound especially good. That new-minted quality also applies to the vitality and ‘authenticity’ of the approach and of flautist Judith Hall and of the Divertimenti of London who, incidentally, play modern instruments. I am less sure about the two concertos from ‘L’estro armonico’; not that there is a problem with Jaime Laredo who is strong and characterful player but with the somewhat scratchy 1986 recording. Despite turning up the bass response I was far from satisfied with the sound. Nevertheless the flute concertos are so pleasing and to such an extent that this disc has instantly become one of my favourite Vivaldi CDs. So why?
Not only is the music good quality Vivaldi, indeed it is generally agreed that these flute concertos represent him at his best. The music is also interesting, tuneful and clever, harmonically slightly daring and varied, and, instrumentally speaking, colourful. In addition I really like Judith Hall’s clean tone especially in the lower register. The choices of tempi are just right and the balance between the inner voices and the strong bass line is excellent.
So let’s take a few highlights. The first three concertos offer us Vivaldi in his most descriptive vein. Vivaldi pioneered programme music as we now call it; a style in which he was so very comfortable. We have all heard the immortal line ‘Once you have heard one Vivaldi concerto you have heard then all’ but with these concertos it is certainly not true. indeed one is left amazed at his powers of invention and the fecundity of his ideas despite the fact that each concerto is basically in three movements - fast, slow, fast.
‘La Tempesta’ is a storm at sea and was resurrected from at least one earlier piece to form this concerto. Vivaldi had heard the great flautist Quantz play in 1726. Ever the business man, he became so enamored of the flute that he wanted to produce his own concertos quickly, therefore necessitating the adapting of earlier works. Not surprisingly in ‘La Tempesta’ the string writing is turbulent and windswept in its outer movements. It also has a dreamy central largo.
‘La Notte’ is a beautiful work. The second movement, marked Presto is subtitled ‘Ghosts’. The next is ‘Sleep’ which it seems he borrowed from he middle movement of Autumn from the Four Seasons. There the peasants sleep off the effects of too much harvest drink.
‘Il Gardellino’ is the Goldfinch, that attractive and colourful bird once kept as a pet in cages. Its bright D major elicits various attempts at virtuoso bird-song in a generalized way in movement one. After that Vivaldi does not fuss about any further description.
The other concertos are much more straightforward but not ordinary. The fourth is the only one especially composed for the set, and the fifth is based on an earlier recorder concerto but transposed into a different key. The sixth uses an earlier chamber concerto. Each movement is tracked; for ‘La notte’ there are four tracks.
The two concertos from ‘L’Estro armonico’ are in the style of the concerto da chiesa, popularized by Corelli a generation before Vivaldi. There are three (tracked) movements some of which are subdivided into differing tempi. These works so impressed J.S. Bach that he ‘borrowed’ them so that RV 565 became his Organ Concerto BWV 596 and  RV 580 became Bach’s Concerto for four harpsichords in A minor. What did Bach especially like I wonder? Possibly the stricter counterpoint compared with the flute works; possibly the older Baroque style … who can say. These make up the disc time-wise but as I have already indicated I am not too sure about the recording. Although Jaime Laredo is strong and convincing the Scottish Chamber Orchestra seem a little under-rehearsed.
Another budget price version which received good reviews at the time is on Naxos with flautist Bela Drahos. I can particularly recommend Volume 1 (Naxos 8.553365). Nevertheless, at a similarly low price, this disc makes not only an excellent introduction to Vivaldi concertos but also to Vivaldi in general. Look out for it.
Gary Higginson




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