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Antonio VIVALDI  (1678-1741)
Concerti per viola d’amore
Concerto in D minor RV 394 (1730s) [9:03]
Concerto in A major RV 396 (1730s) [9:01]
Concerto in D major RV 392 (1720s) [10:03]
Concerto in D minor RV 393 (1720s) [8:28]
Concerto in D minor RV 395 (1720s) [10:43]
Concerto in A minor RV 397 (1718-20) [7:51]
Chamber Concerto for viola d’amore, two horns, two oboes and bassoon in F major RV 97 (1740) [10:21]
Concerto for viola d’amore and lute RV 540 [11:28]
Gianiacomo Pinardi (lute)
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (viola d’amore and direction)
rec. Auditorium Paganini, Parma, May 2006 and January 2004 (RV 540)
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3951462 [77:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante serve up an exciting seventy-seven minutes’ worth of Vivaldi with these exhilarating performances. So far so Fabio Biondi - exhilaration and dynamic, even hectic assurance, is very much his forte. And with these Concertos for viola d’amore he has an apt vehicle for his tremendous virility and abrasive command.
There are six such solo concertos and they don’t receive too many airings especially not together. The unison figures of RV 394 register with biting vibrancy – this in a work, as with so many of its companions, redolent of folk influences. The finale is correspondingly brilliant though some may think Biondi pushes the tempo to extremes – the phrasing is reckless and moreover it sounds rather breathless with its rocketing solo lines and abrasive contrasts. But Biondi scores by virtue of his daring – try the rich colours evoked in the opening movement of RV 396 and the plangent, rather gallant sounding slow movement. His larger-than-life persona is on hand for RV 392 – stringent attacks bristling with resinous vivacity in which we hear a desolate slow movement and an equally contrastive folk dance of a finale. Biondi’s playing here will greatly appeal to those for whom his exploration of such material gives impetus to the music-making though I can imagine detractors will find his exhausting playing rather reminiscent of an over-loquacious party guest who won’t leave you alone.
I was curious about RV 395 where Biondi encourages the band to hammer out the rhythm in the Allegro opening; it certainly sounds emphatic but does it necessarily sound musical? The finale certainly sounds hard-bitten to me and Biondi’s pitch fluctuations – often in slow movements - don’t always sound to be made in the interests of expressive intensification. So for all the brilliance of the opening of RV 397 there will be some who find it off-puttingly brusque, its finale too rushed. The Concerto for viola d’amore and lute RV540 is profoundly impressive work. Unlike the companion solo works it was recorded back in 2004 and has been previously released. The first movement has the orchestral strings muted. The balance between the two solo instruments is perfectly judged and there is a touching delicacy between the two in the slow movement. This is a late work and yields up a full measure of expression. I don’t think it’s my imagination but the finale sounds responsibly vital, whereas in the solo concerti finales can sound harried and unconvincing.
So - a difficult conclusion. Biondi adherents will relish the beautifully recorded brilliance of the performances, their razory, brittle, emphatic versatility. Others will resist these qualities wishing for greater repose and elastic responses – Catherine Mackintosh on Helios CDH55178 for instance who essays very different sounding traversals. Not much middle ground here.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Mark Sealey



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