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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concertos for two violins: G major, RV 516 [8:33]; D major, RV 511 [12:43]; D minor, RV 514 [10:43]; B flat major, RV 524 [10:28]; C minor, RV 509 [8:39]; A minor, RV 523 [9:04]
Viktoria Mullova, Giuliano Carmignola (violins)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
rec. October 2007, Gustav Mahler Auditorium, Cultural Centre, Grand Hotel, Toblach-Dobbiaco, Italy. DDD
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 4777466 [61.02] 
Experience Classicsonline

For this release Archiv have secured the services of Viktoria Mullova and Giuliano Carmignola; two of the most renowned violinists on the period instrument scene today. This is their first collaboration and I was delighted that they have chosen to record Vivaldi’s rarely heard Concertos for two Violins. Immediately noticeable is the appealing timbre of the two solo violins. Mullova plays her 1750 Guadagnini and Carmignola a 1732 ‘Baillot’ Stradivarius, lent to him for this recording by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna. 

Mullova studied at the Central Music School of Moscow and the Moscow Conservatoire in the city of her birth. She was awarded first prize at the 1980 Sibelius Competition in Helsinki and also won Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982. In 1983 she audaciously defected from the Soviet Union to claim political asylum in Sweden before quickly moving to the USA. She made her name making recordings of standard repertoire using modern instruments before switching her allegiance to a baroque violin with a period bow. I admire her recording on period instruments of five Vivaldi violin concertos with Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini for Onyx. Another favourite authentic instrument recording is Mullova’s performance and direction of the set of Mozart violin concertos 1, 3 and 4 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on Philips 470 292-2.

The Treviso-born Carmignola has been a professor of violin at the Venice Conservatory for over ten years. In 1999 he was appointed professor of violin at the Lucerne Hochschule and is currently a professor of music at Siena’s Accademia Musicale Chigiana. Several of Carmignola’s period instrument recordings have been released to considerable acclaim. Of these I have especially enjoyed the set of Mozart violin concertos with Orchestra Mozart under Claudio Abbado on Archiv Produktion. 

I admire Carmignola’s two discs of previously unrecorded Vivaldi late violin concertos with the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon for Sony Classical 87733 and 89362. Also for Sony Classical, Carmignola’s version with the same forces of the Four Seasons on SK90391 (expanded edition with Op. 3 Nos. 10 and 11). Again for Archiv Produktion I have a great regard for Carmignola’s premier recordings of five Vivaldi violin concertos with Andrea Marcon’s Venice players on 00289 477 6005.

Undoubtedly the pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi and late-baroque music in general using period-instruments were dictated to by the severe limitations of the authentic instruments. This must have felt so restricting to the players; as if they were all wearing straitjackets. Consequently, performance style often came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile. Today the finest period instrument performance specialists such as Mullova and Carmignola can explore and exploit the strength of their period instruments rather than feeling constrained by the weaknesses. This increase of technically proficiency has permitted a freer interpretative approach, the successful fruits of which we hear on this disc. 

Compared to his violin concertos - he wrote some 250 in the genre - Vivaldis Concertos for two violins, strings and basso continuo have been sorely neglected in performance and in the recording studio. Most of Vivaldis Concertos for two violins are from the collection of 450 manuscripts housed in the National University Library in Turin. The six presented here are good examples of what Lindsay Kemp describes in the accompanying essay as demonstrating:

“… for the most part Vivaldis usual method of writing for two soloists on similar instruments: rapid interchanges of phrases of melodic fragments which echo, overlap and swap over with each other, alternating with passages of parallel motion, almost invariably euphonious …”.

The first Concerto is RV 516. It opens and closes with brisk and robust outer movements. The central movement is a languid Andante with continuo accompaniment. The D major RV 511 has a vivacious opening Allegro molto, preceding a meditative Largo and closing with an Allegro that provides a powerful burst of energy. In RV 514 I was struck by the wonderfully uplifting Allegro non troppo. The Adagio has a dark almost mysterious character and the score concludes with a dance-like Allegro. RV 524 commences with a rich and robust Allegro. With basso continuo accompaniment the Andante has a rather unsettled quality that contrasts markedly with the lively and buoyant Allegro. The opening movement of RV 509 is marked Allegro ma poco e cantabile a dark-toned movement with suggestions of menace. With basso continuo accompaniment the Andante molto provides a tender conversation between the two violins. The closing Allegro is rich, strong and determined. The closing Concerto on the disc RV 523 is in A minor and opens and closes with light, bright and lively outer movements that share a similar character. I enjoyed the Largo accompanied by basso continuo, especially the wonderful interweaving between the two violins. 

Founded in 1998 the Venice Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Andrea Marcon are one of several outstanding period instrument ensembles that have come to prominence at the forefront of the late-baroque scene in the last ten or so years. On this recording the Venice Baroque Orchestra employs fourteen players, all stringed instruments, with founder Marcon directing from the harpsichord.

The South Tyrol of the Dolomites is the location for this outstanding recording made at the Gustav Mahler Auditorium of the Grand Hotel at Toblach. The closely recorded sound is first class, vividly clear and well balanced. The essay in the booklet is to a good standard.

Mullova and Carmignola provide one of the most consummate displays of period instrument playing that I have heard. True masters of their instruments.

Michael Cookson


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