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
‘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.
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