Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto ‘Conca’ for strings and continuo in B flat RV 163 [3:50]
Concerto IX from ‘La cetra’, Op. 9, two violins, strings and continuo in B flat RV 530 [9:29]
Concerto for bassoon, strings and continuo in A minor RV 500 [9:52]
Concerto for sopranino recorder, strings, bassoon and continuo in A minor RV 445 [10:29]
Concerto VI from ‘La cetra’ for two violins, strings and continuo in B flat RV 526 [8:28]
Sonata for recorder, bassoon and continuo in A minor RV 86 [8:42]
Concerto fragment for bassoon, strings and continuo in D minor RV 482 [2:46]
Concerto fragment for sopranino recorder, strings and continuo in G RV 312 [3:39]
Concerto X ‘L’Amoroso’ from ‘La cetra’ for violin, strings and continuo in E RV 271 [11:44]
Adrian Chandler (violin)
Pamela Thorby (recorder)
Peter Whelan (bassoon)
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler
rec. Hospital of St Cross, Winchester February 2010. DDD.
AVIE AV 2201 [68:59]

Once again, La Serenissima and director Adrian Chandler attempt to up the ante in their presentation and interpretation of Vivaldi’s music.

Last year’s release of concertos on the Avie label (reviewed by MusicWeb) touted an unconvincing ‘French connection’ in the composer’s music. Even more grandiosely, this disc is subtitled ‘Gods, Emperors & Angels’. Yet, again, the connection between the works recorded is much more prosaic, and tenuous. The title simply refers to the writing of some of the concertos for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, the ‘angelic’ qualities of the Pietà girls’ playing, and the ‘cetra’ (lyre) nickname given to the Op. 9 set of violin concertos, and its association with the god Apollo.

Once the hype is stripped away we are left with a mixed bag of works. On the plus side, there are a pair of delightful bassoon concertos (although one, in D minor [track 20], is only a brief fragment). Soloist Peter Whelan brings warmth and humour to the chugging melodic lines, although his role in the very plain sonata for recorder, bassoon and continuo (tracks 16-19) is more limited.

There is another pleasant surprise in the final work on the disc, Vivaldi’s ‘L’Amoroso’ concerto from the Op. 9 set (tracks 22-24). The opening Allegro is hauntingly lyrical, and the plaintive simplicity of the central Largo sounds quite unlike anything else Vivaldi wrote.

But on balance, there are more disappointments than successes here. The ‘Conca’ concerto for strings (tracks 1-3) is an unfortunate opener. Although meant to be humorous in its imitation of the conch shell, it sounds scratchy, ugly and gimmicky. Equally ugly is the sopranino recorder concerto (tracks 10-12). Although magnificently played by Pamela Thorby, the little instrument sounds ear-splittingly shrill and is best avoided by flicking through to the next tracks. Fortunately, the next time it features (on track 21) is only for a single, tamer, fragment movement.

Overall, one can’t help feeling that Chandler’s and his colleagues’ undeniable scholarship and commitment to Vivaldi’s music have been wasted on a rather uninspiring programme.

John-Pierre Joyce

A rather uninspiring programme