nine surviving cello sonatas by Vivaldi can be presumed to
represent only a proportion of the number he probably wrote.
I say that knowing that there is room for at least slight
doubts as to the authenticity of all of them, especially
no.6. Given his clear fondness for the instrument he surely
wrote more. After all here was a composer who wrote many
cello concertos, There was also the presence of a number
of very fine cellists amongst the musicians of the Ospedale
della Pièta niot to mention the growing vogue of the instrument
in the Venice of his time.
seems to have taken less trouble to preserve the manuscripts
of his sonatas - for whatever solo instrument - than of some
of his other music. Though he published two sets of violin
sonatas (opp. 2, 5) he chose not to issue any of his sonatas
for the cello. The first six to be published appeared in
Paris in 1740, in what was surely a pirated edition.
sonatas we do have very probably date from the 1720s. A few
exist in more than one manuscript; none of them autograph.
All are in four movements alternating in the sequence slow-fast-slow-fast,
a pattern that we associate with the sonata da chiesa.
A number of the faster movements are very much informed by
the spirit of the dance; in one manuscript, the Wiesentheid,
which contains two sonatas, such movements actually carry
titles designating the relevant dance rhythms. The slow movements
have a winning gravity, in which elegance and a serious quality
are held in a beautiful balance.
young French-Swiss cellist Ophélie Gaillard (b.1974) has
already met with considerable success in her recordings of
the Bach cello suites (Ambroisie AMB9926) and the Britten
Sonatas (Ambroisie AMB9927). This recording of the complete
Vivaldi sonatas will surely do her reputation nothing but
good. She plays with great beauty of tone, sure-footed musical
intelligence and considerable vivacity.
plays a cello made by Francesco Goffriller at Udine in 1737,
an instrument of which she speaks lovingly on the DVD which
accompanies the two discs of the sonatas. From it she extracts
sounds both brilliant and subtle – which one can appreciate
fully on so well recorded a pair of CDs. Gaillard’s conception
of the music is perhaps indicated by the very name of the
group, Pulcinella, of which she appears to be director and
which furnishes the excellent continuo work in this recording.
The booklet notes - Gaillard’s own work? - observe of Pulcinella
that he was “an emblematic figure of the commedia dell’arte,
a delightful bon vivant who originated in Naples and
is known in different countries as Punch (short for Punchinello),
Polichinelle or Petrushka, also represents the soul of the
people. With uncommon vitality and energy and extraordinary
adaptability, he always faces up to adversity and is capable
of extracting himself from the most difficult situations”.
Much of this is communicated in Gaillard’s reading of the
music. While these performances are not, in any sense, lacking
in refinement, they are what one might call ‘democratic’ interpretations
of Vivaldi. These are performances which seek to capture
and communicate the rich Venetian atmosphere of the music,
the ways in which it articulates what Byron called Venice’s “soft
waves, … all musical to song”, praising it as a place where
one might encounter “the luxurious and voluptuous flood /
Of sweet sensations”. Much of that Venetian spirit is captured
in these performances, not only because of Gaillard’s fine
playing but also – and perhaps especially – because of the
splendidly conceived and variously executed continuo playing
of Pulcinella. The range of instruments drawn on for the basso
continuo on this recording might, I suppose, have allowed
for inappropriate and distracting colour or for mere gimmickry.
But there is none of either to be heard here. The balance
and dialogue of soloist and continuo are well-nigh perfect
throughout and the changes of instrumentation serve primarily
to clarify transitions of mood. The use of plucked instruments
such as guitar, guitar battente - the instrument strung with
wire - and harp, behind/underneath the cello produces some
It is some time since I heard the Hyperion recording of these
sonatas (CDA66881/2), with David Watkin as soloist and the
continuo provided by fellow
cellist Helen Gough, David Miller (theorbo, baroque guitar,
arch lute) and Robert King (chamber organ, harpsichord).
I am not in a position to make a detailed comparison, but
my memory is that that recording perhaps didn’t quite have
the sheer vivacity and personality of this one. Certainly
that 1993 recording wasn’t as vividly, yet sympathetically
recorded as this latest version.
The brief accompanying DVD (on the reverse side of the second CD)
is charming rather than especially substantial, dominated
by the engaging presence of Mademoiselle Gaillard discussing
the music and her instrument.
I have enjoyed this recording greatly. It has a properly
Italianate spirit of measured flamboyance and a consistent
the music. It is played with acute intelligence – and plenty
of feeling – and is beautifully recorded.