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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Rise of the North Italian Violin Concerto: 1690-1740, Volume 2.
Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in B flat, RV 370 (?1716) [12:22]
Arias, for soprano, strings and continuo, from La costanza trionfante degl’amori e de gl’odii, RV 706 (1716) [10:34]
Concerto for violin, two violoncellos, strings and continuo in C, RV 561 (1728?) [9:33]
Concerto/Sinfonia for strings and continue in E, RV 134 [6:19]
Concerto senza cantin, for violin, strings and continuo in D, RV 243 [10:33]
Arias for soprano, strings and continuo, from La fida ninfa, RV 714 (1732) [12:08]
Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in E flat, RV 254 [14:48]
Adrian Chandler (violin, director), Mhairi Lawson (soprano), Sarah McMahon, Gareth Deats (cello), La Serenissima.
rec. 4-7 March 2007, Studio 1, The Warehouse, London.
All texts and translations included.
AVIE AV 2128 [76:38]

It is, of course, a fallacy - though refinements of it are still encountered quite frequently - to propose that full justice can only be done to certain kinds of music, or to certain composers, when the music is performed by what one might call ‘native’ musicians – that Tchaikovsky is always best at the hands of Russian orchestras and conductors, that Elgar and Vaughan Williams require British forces. So much of a fallacy, indeed, that one might reasonably argue the opposite case: ‘foreign’ performers can bring to music new perspectives and insights gained from experiences and knowledge which are, to some extent, outside the composer’s own tradition, and thus avoid any danger of parochialism. Just as many of the best Shakespearean productions of recent years have been the work of companies and directors from outside Britain.

Yet it is true that ‘native’ forces can sometimes provide valuable, even revelatory, reminders of things that the international interpretation of a composer may have forgotten, or been in danger of forgetting. Certainly in recent years, Italian musicians – such as Rinaldo Alessandrini, Fabio Biondi and Giuliano Carmignola – and ensembles – such as Concerto Italiano, Europa Galante, Sonatori de la Gioisa Marca and the Venice Baroque Orchestra – have brought to the performance of Vivaldi’s music a rejuvenating fire and energy, a style of performance rich in eloquent inflections and nervous, scintillating rhythms, a manner full, in short, of Mediterranean vivacity, Vivaldi played with much of the energy and vivaciousness that characterise Italian conversation and street-life, but never at the cost of technical assurance and sophistication. Some non-Italian performances of the violin concertos can sound rather lack-lustre in the context of such as Biondi and Carmignola. But that is not the case, I am pleased, to report, in the work of Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima on this disc, the second volume of their three volume survey of the North Italian violin concerto (see review of volume one).

Chandler brings to his performances both imagination and scholarship; he has recently been the recipient of a three year fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to study the development of the violin concerto in Northern Italy in the years between 1690 and 1740. He and La Serenissima play with the kind of energy, verve and colour we have heard from the Italian ensembles mentioned earlier, and with a similar degree of apt inventiveness. In short, this British group matches up to the standards the Italian Vivaldians have set in recent years, in performances which are richly communicative and committed. The music is individualised without distortion, played very much from within, clearly the work of musicians utterly at home with Vivaldi but who never allow that familiarity to lapse into mere routine - the curse of much inferior playing of Vivaldi.

In RV 370 the ‘virtuoso’ element of the CD’s subtitle (Virtuoso Impresario) is certainly well in evidence; Adrian Chandler’s booklet note aptly points out that a copy of this concerto survives in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden, in the hand of the violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel. Chandler negotiates the concerto’s demands with considerable élan, and his own cadenza, unsurprisingly, is thoroughly Vivaldian in spirit. The energy levels are perhaps not sustained quite so absolutely in RV 561, though by all but the very highest standards this, too, is a fine performance. No reservations whatsoever about either RV 134 or RV 254; in each case the central slow movement is played with loving attention to both line and colour and the closing allegros are little masterpieces of subtle rhythmic interplay, the accents by turns predictable and unpredictable, the sense of vocal-operatic phrasing attractive without ever being exaggerated. RV 243 is a slight oddity, the violinist being instructed to play without the E string (senza cantin) and to tune up his bottom string a whole tone in the finale, so as to provide a pedal note in a long passage of bariolage writing. Again the slow movement is lovely, played with winning eloquence and sensitivity.

Much of Vivaldi’s writing for the solo violin in these concertos has affinities with his writing for the opera, and it is fitting that these performances of a selection from the concertos should be interleaved with operatic arias. There is much to choose from amongst Vivaldi’s operatic compositions: so much so that the three arias from La costanza trionfante degl’amori e de gl’odii here receive their first ever recordings; in these and the two arias from La fida ninfa the soprano soloist is the admirable Mhairi Lawson. She is heard to especial advantage in ‘Dolce fiamma’ from La fida ninfa, her voice full of melting tenderness, the strings of La Serenissima supporting her exquisitely, and in ‘Alma oppressa’ from the same opera, full of stunning coloratura, a demonstration piece which spectacularly demonstrates the abilities of both composer and performer(s).

Glyn Pursglove


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