Vivaldi’s concerto output was prolific, and this collection comprises period instrument performances of the op.8 collection. For me, the interpretation took a little getting used to, since these recordings are highly-stylised and the period instrument sound is much thinner than I am used to with modern instruments. This recording is a re-release of a 1977 disc, giving an opportunity to hear one of the iconic interpretations of the early music movement on CD.
Beginning with the well-known and much loved Four Seasons
, Harnoncourt’s reading is interesting, with a perhaps surprising amount of rubato and some fascinating balance choices. You can hear this, for example, in the slow movement of Spring
, the bass dominates and the upper string tutti parts are barely audible. Summer
is driven with energy, and the dissonances have a strong effect, but the abrupt phrase-endings break the sense of musical flow. There are, however, some fine moments of expression from the solo violin in the central movement, and the wonderfully dramatic final movement is played with vigour and an excellent balance between the parts.
has a well punctuated opening, with accents giving the line direction and a sense of life. Throughout the concerto there is a sense of weightiness, especially in the final movement. Winter
is played here with a sense of biting cold, and the tone quality of the period instruments is especially enjoyable here. The slow movement is surprisingly fast-paced and feels slightly unsettled as a result. The last movement is well phrased and enjoyable. Harnoncourt’s reading of this music gives it a life and energy which can so easily be lost. His choices might not always be to my taste, but there is a palpable sense of drama here which offers an engaging perspective on the music.
Concerto No. 5 is La tempesta del mare
, a concerto which depicts a storm at sea. This is a work which reflects the title of this set of concertos, Il Cimento dell’Armonica e dell’inventione
, which translates as “daring experiments with harmony and invention”. Vivaldi’s use of imagery within the music is creative, with pauses in the final movement interrupting the flow and making use of changes of meter. One can sense the forward-looking experiments of this composer, and although these musical ideas may sound subtle to our modern ears, one can imagine the impact on the audiences of the time. Concerto No. 6 opens with syncopations and material which are reminiscent of the first movement of Spring.
There are lyrical passages in the final movement which are well-formed and provide an enjoyable contrast.
The second disc contains concertos nos. 7 to 12, in numerical order. Number 7 is one of my favourites, with a wonderful concertante-style opening movement and a beautifully melodic slow movement. The final movement is full of humour and possesses a charming sense of lightness.
Concerto No. 8 has a dance style first movement, which is played here with energy and wit. The second movement has the feel of renaissance music, with the organ delicately accompanying the solo violin in the style of a sacred song. The final movement uses unexpected harmonies and textures, once again reflecting the sense of innovation in these works.
The ninth concerto features the oboe as soloist, providing a welcome change of timbre. The baroque oboe sound is somewhat mellower than the modern oboe can be, and the intonational issues associated with the early instrument add a wonderful character to the sound, with a slightly uneven tone quality which somehow brings the music to life. Jürg Schaeftlein plays with beautiful phrasing in the slow movement and clarity in the fast passages.
The violin returns for Concerto No. 10, with music which describes a hunt. Vivaldi once again demonstrates his skills at creating imagery through his music, and there is a strong sense of galloping horses in the first movement. The slow movement provides something of an interlude, while the final movement is said to describe animals trying to escape from the hunt. The imitative opening of Concerto No. 11 uses antiphonal effects and contains within the concerto, a number of stylistic effects which were popular at the time of composition, including syncopations, fugue, and folk-influenced melodies. The final concerto in the set is for oboe, and takes on a simple pastoral character. There are folk influences here, and a sense of dialogue between the soloist and orchestra.
Throughout this disc, one gets a true sense of Vivaldi as an innovator who was ahead of his time. Harnoncourt’s interpretations give the music a new sense of vitality and allow us to explore some of the subtleties of the music in a captivating way. The standard of playing is consistently high and there is a sense of unity of purpose from Concentus Musicus Wien which is both appealing and convincing.