Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Stravaganza - Six Concertos for violin, strings (edition John Walsh, London, 1728)
Concerto in B flat major, RV 383a [7:16]
Concerto in E minor, RV 279 [9:55]
Concerto in A minor, RV 357 [7:37]
Concerto in F major, RV 284 [6:45]
Concerto in D major, RV 204 [5:53]
Concerto in F major, RV 291 [8:44]
Concerto for violin, cello and strings in F major, RV 544 Il Proteo o sia Il mondo alrovescio (Proteus, or the world upside-down) [10:14]
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin)
rec. 17-23 December 2008, Biblioteca del Monastero di San Giovanni Evangelista, Parma, Italy
VIRGIN CLASICS 5193002 [56:26]
Vivaldi’s collection of twelve violin concertos La Stravaganza, Op. 4is astonishing for its wide variety of solo and orchestral colouring and technical range. Published in 1714 Vivaldi strikes out with his own individual style abandoning much of the inspiration of Corelli and the Roman school.
Rachel Podger, the baroque violinist and period instrument ensemble director, has stated that in La Stravaganza she was, “full of wonder at Vivaldi’s seemingly endless capacity for invention.” and how “Vivaldi uses melodic figurations in many remarkable ways.” 

England’s leading music publisher John Walsh became London agent to Vivaldi’s principal publisher Estienne Roger of Amsterdam. Initially Walsh had fallen out with Roger over accusations of plagiarism. Their relationship clearly improved as from around 1715 Walsh started publishing a number of important volumes of Vivaldi’s music commencing with L’Estro armonico,Op.3. In an attempt to satisfy the demand for Vivaldi’s music some years later in 1728 Walsh issued a London edition of La Stravaganza by taking five concertos from the Op. 4 set of twelve. For his London edition Walsh selected the concertos from the Op. 4 set that he felt his London audience would prefer. He ignored the more virtuosic concertos of the set such as No. 8 choosing Nos 1, 2, 4, 9 and 11 which were the ones he considered closest to the Concerto Grosso style that often included a second or ‘shadow’ violin part. At that time audiences expected their editions in sets of six and as Walsh had already done a marketing trial by issuing No. 5 of the Op. 4 set at an earlier date he didn’t want to duplicate that. So Walsh added a sixth concerto to his edition, the Concerto in F major, RV 291. Doubts have been expressed about the authorship of the F major Concerto, RV 291; it may not be by Vivaldi. It wouldn’t have been the first time that Walsh had made a mistake whilst assembling a collection of Vivaldi scores.

Biondi and Europa Galante have here recorded the six concertos from Walsh’s English edition of La Stravaganza. To increase the timing they have included a seventh score the Concerto for violin, cello and strings in F major, RV 544. Europa Galante is one of several outstanding specialist period instrument ensembles that have come to prominence on the early music scene in the last decade. These specialist players explore and exploit the strength of their period instruments rather than being restricted by the weaknesses. On this release at their best I especially enjoyed their Concerto in B flat major, RV 383a with its exhilarating played opening Allegro. A plaintive violin solo in the Largo e cantabile features over a clock-like rhythm followed by the furiously paced and energetic closing Allegro.The inspiration is variable and the level of memorability is often limited. A good example of this is the Concerto in F major, RV 291 that opens with a frantic violin solo in a movement that outstays its welcome. The very short central Larghetto is a rather forgettable with a rhythmically determined closing Allegro that feels breathlessly frantic.  
By selecting the London edition Biondi misses out on seven of the original set which contain some exceptional music. The Concerto in F major, Op. 4/9 is a favourite. I love the infectious foot-tapping and trotting pace of the opening Allegro. In the central slow movement the agitated solo violin set against a gentle rocking rhythm is most engaging concluding with a striking and vivacious Allegro. Best of all has to be the meltingly beautiful Largo from the Concerto in D major, Op. 4/11 which is simply irresistible. It’s a candidate for Vivaldi’s greatest hits. 
There have not been all that many versions of the complete twelve concerto La Stravaganza recorded over the years. Consequently it has remained in the shadow of L’Estro armonico, Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione and to a lesser degree La Cetra.
The finest alternative recording in the catalogue of the complete La Stravaganza is the superb 2002 Goscikowo-Paradyz, Poland account from Arte Dei Suonatori directed by Rachel Podger (baroque violin) on Channel Classics CCS 19598. Podger’s playing swings effortlessly from exciting and powerful, to sensitive and poignant, yet remains constantly stylish and polished. Using period instruments they provide intensely committed, ardently expressive and exhilarating accounts. In that marvellously presented release the engineers at Channel Classics furnish top-class sound; the annotation is excellent too.
Other period instrument accounts of the complete La Stravaganza are available from Neville Marriner directing the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields from 1975 on Decca 444821 and Christopher Hogwood with the Academy of Ancient Music from 1987 on L'Oiseau Lyre 417-502. The more recent accounts from Biondi and Podger make the versions from the ASMF/Marriner and the AAM/Hogwood seem pale, a touch lacklustre and somewhat academic and mechanical.
Europa Galante are in exhilarating form. With speeds feeling rather quick I would have preferred a little more restraint in the Allegros. For this reason the judiciously paced Podger accounts reign supreme. With regard to sound Europa Galante’s pounding ground bass felt rather too far forward and in the Double Concerto, RV 544 the solo cello feels somewhat recessed. I wanted to hear more of the complete set and I am rather disappointed that Biondi chose not to record all twelve. Nevertheless, this is exciting music-making and the release is highly desirable.
Michael Cookson
Exciting music-making … highly desirable.