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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
CD 1 [70:27]
The Four Seasons - concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo Op. 8, Nos 1-4 (from Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione) RV 269, 293, 297, 315 (1720)
Concerto Op.8 No.5 La tempesta di mare RV 252 (1720) [9:55]
Concerto in A [7:50]
Flute Concerto Op.10 No.3 Il gardellino RV 428 [10:52]
CD 2 [53:02]
L’Estro Armonico Op. 3 RV 549, 578, 310, 550, 519, 356
CD 3 [64:47]
L’Estro Armonico Op. 3 RV 567, 522, 230, 580, 565 and 265 (1711) [117:49]
Virtuosi di Roma/Renato Fasano
rec. London and Rome 1958-1962
EMI CLASSICS 5094492 [3 CDs; 70:27 + 53:02 + 64:47]
Experience Classicsonline

Back in the years 1958-62 when these recordings were made we were living in fertile times in the explosive history of Vivaldi on record. Earlier Molinari, so richly excoriated, so blazingly eviscerated by his compatriot Toscanini for his political “sins”, was producing his editions and going so far as to record an all-orchestral, non-soloistic version of the Four Seasons; he had been the pioneer. Others followed - Kaufman of course and Olevsky and others. But in many ways it was the profusion of Italian talent that dominated the scene. It was this post-Molinari, pre-Scimone scene that is in many ways one of the richest nostalgia and heady spirits with Bernedetto Pavello and Ferrari among them. I think also of the international flux that contained such as Barchet, Warchal, Schneiderhan and Tomasow. But amongst them, as indicated, the native muse flourished the most and even with I Soloisti di Zagreb in the wings the Virtuosi di Roma under Renato Fasano shed a shining light.

The soloists in the Virtuosi included Luigi Ferro and Guido Mozzato in the Four Seasons and a phalanx of splendid players elsewhere - Edmondo Malanotte, Franco Gulli, the illustrious Alberto Poltronieri, and Angelo Stefanato amongst them. They all make tremendous contributions.

The Four Seasons is an alert, buoyant and excellent reading, unusual in that we have two soloists, Ferro in RV 269 and 293 and Mazzato in 315 and 297. The harpsichord rallentando in the Allegro of Spring is, true, very much of its time in its expressive freedom but it’s wisest to see these performances as part of a continuum of Vivaldian exploration and not to engage in post-facto recriminations over matters of style, all too prevalent a tactic in the reviewing business. The playing as such is vibrant, romantic and warm toned, though by no means indulgent. The cadential passage in the concerto’s finale is stretched elastically and the tutti is therefore abrupt but the legato remains smooth, remains lean. There’s plenty of stasis in Mozzato and Fasano’s Summer whilst the thematic and tempo relationships of Autumn have been cannily and winningly thought through. Listen to the listless harpsichord in its Largo. It’s Mozzato who unveils the grave lyric nobility of Winter, undecorated. Orchestral pizzicati are finely scaled unlike the Technicolor monsters that have since emerged as pictorial playthings.

The Flute Concerto is not quite so well balanced with the harpsichord unusually backward. But La tempesta di mare – once again with Malanotte – is characteristically Mediterranean in its warmth and vibrancy. Virtuosity and assurance are unimpeded by indulgence. L’Estro Armonico features many of the excellent players noted above. This is playing of quiet intensity; the bass line definition is good, separation of the solo lines equally so and only a real curmudgeon would fail to be moved by Ferro and Malanotte’s teamwork in the B minor [No.10] or Gulli’s sheer refinement in the Larghetto e spiritoso of No.8. The Ninth is possibly the best known of Op.3 and is in the safest, most generous of hands here.

The earliest of these recordings are now racking up half a century so newcomers will know better than to look for things that were not then being explored stylistically. These are romantic but sensitively intelligent traversals – not treacly, or overusing vibrato. The set will appeal to those for whom the late fifties Romantic mainstream still embraced Vivaldi – before music became parcelled out to micro-managers, fetishists and professorial musicologists and their vibrato-free Elysium.

Jonathan Woolf



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