CD starts on a high with one of the most exuberant and entertaining of all Vivaldi’s concertos: the Concerto in G for 2 mandolins, strings and continuo
. It’s excellently performed too by the small but virtuoso Italian period instrument ensemble L’Arte dell’ Arco. I like the way in the first movement as one mandolin continually repeats the other’s phrases the repeat isn’t exactly the same. There are subtle differences of ornamentation or rhythmic variation, so the effect is that of a conversation in which two persons are in accord yet still maintain their individuality. I compared the 1992 recording by Il Giardino Armonico (Teldec 2564 698542) who offer the same programme as here except for the final concerto. In a more orthodox way they deliver repeats exactly and with very firmly etched phrasing. The effect is not as playfully headlong as that provided by L’Arte dell’ Arco. That said they have more intimate soloists and stronger contrast for the tutti
LAdA’s soloists do agree exactly in their lovely slow movement. In this way the perform to more moving effect because of the contrast. The movement has a beauteous sorrow or yearning and the absolute repetition seems to be that of consolation. L’Arte dell’ Arco here show they have mastered the craft of allowing the performance to hang in the air with all the time in the world; you willingly share this time with them. IGA are gentle enough but their projection skips forward too readily to be sorrowful. LAdA’s finale in contrast again has a resolute pace which creates an unassailable progress. IGA are firmer, with more of a rustic feel but less momentum yet more interest in Vivaldi’s excursion into G minor in the second section.
The Concerto in C major for mandolin, strings and continuo
is attractive for quite a different reason. The musical argument in the first movement especially (tr. 4) is more developed because one soloist has to provide it and there isn’t the same scope for repetition. Tutti
are crisp and firm. However the solo lute lightens the atmosphere with imaginative and generous embellishing of his line towards cadences (from 1:21) and in repeats and sequences of phrases, for instance from plain presentation at 1:32 to highly decorated at 1:39. There’s a splendid glissando to enjoy at 2:28 just before the final phrase. IGA’s account is much quieter: all soft tones. The emphasis is on unity and contentment rather than virtuosity and projection, on inwardness and reflection. No glissando here.
The slow movement from LAdA is one of substance, sunnily concentrated and all of a progressive piece. This is an arioso in which in the repeats of its two sections the dotted semiquaver/demisemiquaver rhythm is smoothed to even semiquavers. In this way you get half as many added melodic notes again. At the same time there’s a clear focus on how Vivaldi can make the repetition of the same notes in the accompaniment dramatic through sheer placement and variation of chording. LAdA’s presentation is finely poised. The IGA account is less contrasted, a quiet parade with dotted rhythms throughout. It nevertheless instils a delicate and subtle hinterland of strings’ shading chords. LAdA’s finale trips along easily in even quavers, all at ease, but you can still enjoy the artistry of the skilful and sunny embellishment of the solo part. Soloist and strings are in benign accord in both this and the IGA account, the latter a touch more laid-back.
The Trio in G minor for violin, lute and basso
from LAdA has a well defined sense of span and a rather wan viewpoint as might be expected from the minor key but here cleanly projected. Il Giardino Armonico’s approach is more domestic and inward, bringing out the distinction between a concerto with a body of players in the tutti
and the solo instruments here in a trio. This makes the opening movement’s cast more melancholy and is further emphasised by a more soft and delicate second half repeat. The slow movement is presented by LAdA as a rather sad arioso but still a resourceful one with ingeniously varied ornamentation in the repeats: the slower IGA account seems more indulgent. LAdA’s finale is also more nifty than IGA’s and thereby more optimistic.
The Concerto for 2 violins, lute and basso
has a waspish opening of 2 demisemiquaver/dotted quaver abrasion from the violins. This is rendered more graceful when it’s repeated as a lute solo and thereafter taming the violins’ approach a little. The lively basso continuo almost achieves soloist status but adds to the rounded picture. Il Giardino Armonico show an opening of more dancing folksy zest before the contrasted lute, but their greater urgency is less sunny. The slow movement from L’Arte dell’ Arco is beautifully poised: gorgeously sunny reflection from the lute. It just enjoys lying back to a shining haze of strings as the sunlight glistens on the water and time stands still. All of which doesn’t prevent the soloist from providing imaginatively contrasted yet not excessive ornamentation in the repeat. IGA are less poised, the ornamentation a touch more mannered and the second half isn’t repeated. LAdA’s finale, both merry and tumbling, is playfully rumbustious; IGA are a shade heavier.
The Trio in C major for violin, lute and basso
has a refined sunniness in LAdA’s opening movement. The lute trips along throughout, the violin is rather racier in the repeats and boasts sheeny, more sustained notes in the second section while the cello remains a steadying influence. IGA’s performance, less projected than LAdA’s, makes clearer that this is a chamber work, self-effacing and homely, with more inward contentment and the sustained violin notes like soft sighs. LAdA’s violin adds an imaginative cadenza to create a pleasing transition to the lute’s wandering arioso over the strings’ chords in crotchets (second movement). IGA’s account of this is more inward and you feel you are eavesdropping. LAdA repeat the second section, IGA don’t. With LAdA you can savour more lute decoration. LAdA’s finale is lively and blithe, IGA’s has a quieter smiling jollity.
The Concerto in D minor for viola d’amore, lute, strings and basso
is the more notable for the lute’s solo partner here, the relatively rarely heard, treble viol size, viola d’amore. It has a fairly raucous tone and is strikingly assertive in the opening movement in LAdA’s account. Its solo part incorporates double and triple stopping. The lute has an inevitably quieter, echoing role. IGA’s performance here is lighter, brighter, with more relaxed and relaxing soloists but less sense of purpose than LAdA’s. The question to consider here is whether you’re happy for musing to be an end in itself. In the slow movement the viola d’amore has the tune and the lute accompanies. It’s an easygoing arioso but one in which Vivaldi and LAdA display an expert grace of form, proportion and line. There’s also an attractive simplicity and candour about this performance. The IGA account, always quiet and comely, softens further still and beautifully for the repeat of the second strain, but is this over manipulating? The Allegro
finale is begun in rather relaxed fashion by LAdA, though it’s sprightly enough come the soloists’ entry, the lute courteously matching the viola d’amore’s propositions. All the same, there’s a certain doggedness about it. The IGA account here is crisper, timing at 3:02 against LAdA’s 3:31. IGA are altogether lighter on their feet with a shadowy deftness and a brighter atmosphere within which the lute appears a more equal partner in conveying the musical message.
Finally comes the Concerto in A major for harpsichord, strings and continuo
which the New Grove
terms a ‘putative alternative version’ of RV 546, a concerto for violin, cello and strings. The opening Allegro
(tr. 19), taken more broadly here, say Allegretto
, is meaty enough. Its initial figure is based on an octave descent but as the statement develops it’s the ascents that grow in stature from an octave to an eleventh. The harpsichord soloist role is largely one of shimmering semiquavers but something of an occasionally contrasted melodic contour can be gleaned from 2:26 when the ripieno
first violins double what was originally the concertino
violin. The Andante
second movement is a curious, somewhat dysfunctional dialogue between a harpsichord that’s all glitter and decoration and terse, rather curt interjections from the strings, again featuring octave descents. The Allegro
finale is perkier, securing its stimulus from the initial exchange of material between first and second ripieno
violins at 3 bar intervals. This technique is happily continued by the harpsichord in its opening solo so that two distinct lines can be discerned at times to relieve the showers of semiquavers. This work isn’t on the IGA disc which adds the flamboyant RV 558 for multiple instruments.
Vivaldi’s concertos celebrate the beauty of the expected and these fresh, direct, closely recorded virtuoso interpretations by L’Arte dell’ Arco do it well. At times Il Giardino Armonico provide more variety and subtlety but this itself may not always be preferable or even more entertaining. This Brilliant CD has the advantage of bargain price as well as a little more generous measure.