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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerti per violino II ‘Di sfida
Concerto in D major, RV 232 [11:38]
Concerto in E major, RV 264 [8:26]
Concerto in G minor, RV 325 [7:30]
Concerto in A major, RV 353 [9:06]
Concerto in D minor, RV 243 [9:19]
Concerto in B flat major, RV 368 [9:01]
Anton Steck (violin)
Modo Antiquo/Federico Maria Sardelli
rec. February, August, 2006, Centro Culturale, sala Gustav Mahler, Dobbiaco, Italy. DDD
NAÏVE OP 30427 [55:00] 



Another disc in the Naïve Vivaldi Edition and yet another success. Anton Steck plays half a dozen dramatic, exciting, superbly crafted and contrasting violin concertos with the alert and sensitive support of Modo Antiquo under Vivaldi specialist Federico Maria Sardelli.

None of the concertos lasts longer than a dozen minutes – indeed the disc is a little ungenerous at five minutes short of an hour. Many of them have Vivaldi’s hallmarks … vivid and colourful painting with sound, tension, playfulness, tunefulness too, pathos, experimentation (particularly with textures), gentleness contrasted with vigour. And scope for virtuosity – which Steck displays in profusion. He has to! 

Lest anyone think this is a recital disc of concertos selected almost at random, Susan Orlando for the Vivaldi Edition project explains in the accompanying booklet that, with 90 violin concertos to be recorded, not only did a broad and varying range of approaches need to be found and adhered to … hence the use of different soloists. But also some structure needed to be imposed on the groupings of the editions … hence the participation of Vivaldi specialist Olivier Fourés. He grouped the releases according to comprehensible themes: for instance, concertos written for a specific eighteenth century performer, for a certain patron or venue. 

In this case the notion of challenge (‘sfida’ in Italian) has – rather imaginatively – been chosen for the present group. Challenge in the sense of a difficulty to be overcome; a target to be met, or a provocation to be responded to. Since Vivaldi was so proficient as a violinist - and able to elicit such wonders from his pupils on the violin - such challenges include the idea of meeting whatever adversities - intended or encountered unwillingly - music-making and life presented him with. 

RV 243, for example, is subtitled ‘senza cantin’, or ‘with the top (E) string missing’. In other words, play as if the instrument’s E string were frayed, broken or otherwise unavailable. And play with all the consequential tuning oddities implied by that. In fact, these produce a rather muffled, foggy - as the Venetian lagoon in winter - sound. RV 353 sets - above all - bowing challenges. Maybe these were first met by one of Vivaldi’s star pupils, Anna Maria, reputed to be the finest violinist in Italy. Steck, too, is more than up to the challenge. Technique also accounts for the challenges of RV 232: vintage Vivaldi fireworks; but never for their own sake. Changes in dynamics, leaps and contrasts all combine to suggest a coherent sum. RV 264 seems to be ‘trying to tell us something’. Maybe the challenge is the listener’s: why the mock solemn opening? Why the restraint when the rest of the material is dance-like? 

RV 325 and RV 368 - unlike the other four on this disc, which date from the 1730s - were probably composed in the late 1720s. The former presents the challenge of speed: spectacular leaps, bariolage - rapid alternation between a static - usually open string - note and changing ones which weave a melody around it - and a contrasting slow movement requiring the soloist to improvise a recitative. The latter is perhaps Vivaldi’s most nearly unplayable concerto of all. Maybe, for once, this is virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. The stuff of competitions and instrumental gymnastics. 

One does not, however, come away from concentrated listening to this disc breathless, with glazed ears or feelings of grudging admiration. Sardelli and Modo Antiquo manage to present and themselves enjoy the music for what it is. No subtext of ostentation. Vivaldi’s subtleties and beauty are too important. 

RV 232, 264 and 368 are not already in the catalogue; and there’s only one recording of each of 325 (see review) and 353. Even if there had been competition these would be very worthwhile performances. Never a lag, never a spurious note, and lots of meaning in the way these forces bring the music together. Challenge has not meant risk here, but accomplishment. 

Mark Sealey 




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