The two discs of this set were originally released at the end
of the 1980s. That was shortly before Italian ensembles started
to take the early music scene by storm. In a way these recordings
by Concerto Köln foreshadow what we have become accustomed
to hearing from recordings by Italian baroque orchestras. Among
the features of these interpretations are strong contrasts in
tempo and dynamics, a clear differentiation between good and
bad notes and in general a quite theatrical and dramatic approach
to Italian instrumental music.
These performances were released at a time when most recordings
of Vivaldi's music came from English ensembles like The Academy
of Ancient Music, the English Concert or the Raglan Baroque Players.
Despite their virtues they were introverted rather than passionate
and were not really able to shake off the prejudices against
Vivaldi and his music. Much has changed in this respect.
These discs, originally released by the German label Capriccio,
give a very good overview of Vivaldi's oeuvre. Listening to these
fourteen concertos one is impressed by the variety in character
and scoring. It is easy to imagine why Vivaldi's music had such
a broad appeal throughout Europe.
The first disc starts off with a concerto from a genre Vivaldi
has become famous for: the depiction of a natural phenomenon,
in this case a storm at sea. In this same category falls the
Concerto 'La Notte
' which closes the first disc and the
'. Concertos like these take full profit
from the approach of Concerto Köln. Strong dynamic accents
and contrasts in tempo help in exploring the effects Vivaldi
demands to illustrate storms or the fears and anxieties of the
Another concerto with a title is the 'Concerto funebre' which
is of a quite different character. With its four movements it
pays tribute to the sonata da camera
of Corelli. What
is notable here is Vivaldi's scoring, for violin, oboe, 3 viole
(a kind of viola da gamba), salmoè
with strings and bc. The oboe and chalumeau often play unisono
and they have a remarkable role which greatly contributes to
the character of this piece.
Also unusual is the Concerto in A for violin, 3 violins per
eco in lontano
, strings and bc in A. It is a dialogue of
a solo violin and three violins playing at a distance and echoing
its phrases. The Sinfonia and the two Concertos for strings and
bc belong to a large number of pieces without solo parts, although
the Concerto in g minor (RV 155) contains some solo passages.
This is the only of the three which also follows the pattern
of the sonata da camera
The second disc begins with another piece of this kind, and closes
with one of the concertos from op. 3 which Johann Sebastian Bach
arranged for organ. Between these two we hear several concertos
with solo parts for various instruments. In the Concerto in d
minor (RV 566) the outer movements are dominated by a dialogue
between three groups of two instruments: recorders, oboes and
violins, whereas the slow movement is a trio of two recorders
and bassoon without strings or basso continuo.
Vivaldi wrote a number of concertos for two instruments, and
we find here a specimen in the Concerto in G (RV 545) with solo
parts for oboe and bassoon. The principle of a dialogue is also
applied in the Concerto in due cori. Both groups consist of two
recorders, two violins and cello; the second also has a solo
organ. They all get some solo passages which differ in length,
and both are supported by a corpus of strings and bc.
The German violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel, who for a long
time was the leader of the orchestra of the court in Dresden,
had been a pupil of Vivaldi, and the Concerto in B flat (RV 162)
can here be heard in his arrangement. Originally composed for
strings and bc Pisendel added parts for two recorders, two oboes
and bassoon. The recorder takes a solo role in the Concerto in
c minor (RV 441).
This is one of the relatively few concertos Vivaldi has written
for recorder. The first disc begins with the Concerto 'La Tempesta
di Mare', and here the solo part is also played on the recorder.
But the op. 10, from which this is the first concerto, was scored
for transverse flute, strings and basso continuo. I can't figure
out why the recorder has been chosen as in the two other versions
of this piece (RV 98 and 570) the solo part is also for transverse
flute. The same is true for the Concerto 'La Notte' which is
the second concerto in op. 10 and is based on the concerto da
camera RV 104. In both versions the solo part is written for
the transverse flute.
Now that we know so many Italian recordings of Vivaldi's music
are these reissues any competition? I think they are, not because
they are better but because they are so good in themselves that
they can exist alongside more recent recordings. At the time
these discs were released Concerto Köln was one of Europe's
best baroque orchestras, and as I have already indicated its
approach to this repertoire was in many ways different from what
was then common. The quality of the orchestra is impressive,
the ensemble is outstanding and the solo parts are all brilliantly
That doesn't mean everything is perfect. The second movement
of the Concerto 'La Tempesta di Mare' is a bit stiff and the
fast movements of the Concerto RV 155 could have been played
faster. The opening movement of the Concerto RV 156 is relatively
moderate in tempo; I know Italian performances which are twice
as fast. But this tempo allows the harmonic peculiarities to
come to the fore more clearly, which may have been the reason
for this choice of pacing. The finale is really too slow, but
the slow movement is played with great expression, like the slow
movements of RV 155. The tempi on the second disc are generally
well chosen. The rhythmic pulse of the Concerto in B flat is
beautifully realised, especially in the last movement, and the
two outer movements of the recorder concerto - both 'allegro
non molto' - are played at the right moderate speed. The disc
closes with one of Vivaldi's most famous concertos, which is
given a sparkling performance by Concerto Köln.
What is disappointing is that the programme notes are largely
the same as those in the original releases. Nowadays we can draw
a veil over Stravinsky’s view that Vivaldi composed the
same concerto six hundred times. Today this perspective has no
relevance and no longer needs to be refuted.
The reissue of these two fine recordings can only be welcomed.
Despite the large and ever-growing number of Vivaldi discs on
the market there is still a place for this set which has easily
survived the passage of time.
Johan van Veen