Antonio VIVALDI (1675-1741)
Concerto for Oboe and Strings in a minor, F. VII, No. 13 [9:30]; in D, F. VII, No. 10 [7:23]
Concerto for Oboe and Strings in C, F. VII, No. 6 [14:00]; in a minor, F. VII, No. 5 [9:04]; in F, F. VII, No. 12 [8:34]; in d minor, F. VII, No. 1 [7:59]; in C, F. VII, No. 11 [10:07]; in F, F. VII, No. 2 [7:48]
Alex Klein (oboe)
New Brandenburg Collegium/Anthony Newman
rec. 1-3 September 1993, Performing Arts Center, SUNY, Purchase, NY
CEDILLE CDR 7003 [75:00]

Antonio Vivaldi was once famously derided by Igor Stravinsky for having written one concerto which he then copied five hundred times. One listen to these elegant and technically daunting oboe concertos, some of the most demanding virtuoso pieces of their time, will quickly put Stravinsky’s arrogant comment to bed.

Precious little is known about Vivaldi’s life. We know that he was the music teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a publicly-funded institution for orphaned or abandoned girls. We know that he was a priest and that he was one of the most prolific and, as these works prove, innovative composers of his day. He was a beloved teacher and it is assumed that the majority of his instrumental works were written for the girls in his care. That he created such abundant and original material, music which challenges modern musicians even after three hundred years, is testimony to the abilities of Vivaldi as a teacher and to the talent of his students. There was no other composer writing music like this for the oboe in his day. Even Tomaso Albinoni, the most famous oboist in Venice, did not compose concertos of this scope.

Alex Klein, playing on a modern oboe with a modern string band to accompany him, brings these works to life with great elegance and panache. It is often said that the oboe is the closest instrument to the human voice. Klein not only understands brilliant virtuosity, but he is quite capable of singing with his instrument. His deft handling of the many blazingly fast passages in these works is astounding not only for the accuracy of his playing, but also for the apparent ease with which he brings them off. In the slow movements, and they are all achingly gorgeous, Mr. Klein plays with beautifully arched phrases and a sweetness of tone that would rival the singing of the late-lamented Dame Joan Sutherland.

Anthony Newman, long a big name in Baroque music, leads the New Brandenburg Collegium with an understated elegance that is the perfect accompaniment for these flashy displays. The strings are warm and immaculately in tune. Mr. Newman’s harpsichord provides a solid foundation without ever sounding too busy. Recorded sound is balanced and just reverberant enough to give us warmth without blur.

At seventy-five minutes, this is a generous program, and one worth many a repeated listen. Originally issued on the Musical Heritage Label in 1995, it is a welcome addition to the Cedille catalogue.

Kevin Sutton

Stravinsky got it wrong when he quipped that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto five hundred times. These elegant and beautifully played show-pieces for oboe will delight any listener.