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Vivaldi and Friends
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Folia (Madness) Concerto grosso, after the Sonata Op. 1 no. 12
(1705) [10.55]; Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No.
10/RV 580 (1711) [8.35]; Concerto L'Estate (Summer), Op.
8, No. 2/RV 315 from Le Quattro Stagione (The Four Seasons) (1723-25)
[10.44]; Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, RV531 [10.47];
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in A minor for Four Harpsichords, BWV 1065, Transcription
from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four violins in B minor Op. 3, NO. 10/RV
René DUCHIFFRE (b. 1961)
Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba (Tango) [22.23]
see end of review for soloists
Apollo’s Fire (The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra) on period instruments/Jeanette
Arrangements for Vivaldi’s La Folia and L’Estate by
rec. live, 22-23 February 2008, April 2000, October 2000, St Paul’s
Church, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, DDD
Booklet notes in English, French and German
AVIE AV2211 [74.34]
Initially, the title given to this recording, Vivaldi and
Friends made me frown. What can they possibly mean by Vivaldi
and friends? What friends? Do we actually know anything about
Vivaldi’s friends? Besides, I could not help but remember the
many modern ventures of some very famous artist singing or playing
with “friends”; which usually means a celebrated, well-known
superstar giving an opportunity to others - which in itself
is commendable - who are less famous than themselves; however,
too often not really very talented.
As soon as one opens the CD booklet the concept of this offer
becomes obvious. We are actually dealing with Vivaldi and his
admirers, which is also the title of the excellent and informative
booklet notes. So, why not call it just “Vivaldi and his Admirers”?
It would have been just as catchy as the actual title and more
accurate. In the end, whatever the reasons, they are truly irrelevant
as soon as you start listening to the CD.
Vivaldi and Friends is actually an accomplished, well
judged, satisfying and extremely pleasing recording. It not
only showcases some of Vivaldi’s most beautiful compositions
for strings splendidly but it also groups them effectively with
music by his admirers. The concept of admirers is in itself
very interesting too because of the time-gap, spanning three
or four centuries. We have a contemporary of Vivaldi, no less
than the great Johann Sebastian Bach and at the other end of
the time spectrum we have René Duchiffre who was born in 1961.
Bach’s contribution is his own transcription for four harpsichords
from one of Vivaldi’s most spectacular works: The Concerto
in B minor for Four Violins. As the booklet notes quite
rightly remind us, in those days, transcribing a piece by another
composer was not plagiarism; instead, it was a tribute and a
statement of one’s admiration for the original. It is not very
often that one hears a piece with four harpsichords but, as
Jeanette Sorrell says in the booklet notes: “Bach saw the opportunity
with this piece [Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins] to create
an extraordinary type of concerto that would suit his own needs
as the father of a brood of keyboard players.” Between his two
wives, as is generally known, Bach had twenty children; of which
ten survived to adulthood. They were all accomplished musicians.
I totally agree with Sorrell’s opinion that the Concerto
in A minor for Four Harpsichords distinctly bears the mark
of Bach. This can be heard in the slight changes of harmony,
the move from the B minor to the A minor key - better suited
to the keyboard range - and the fact that the solo parts are
technically more difficult than the original. However, the music
is still recognisable as Vivaldi therefore demonstrating Bach’s
admiration for his Italian colleague. It is arguably the most
interesting piece on this CD because it brings together two
of the greatest composers of the Baroque period as well as the
Italian and German styles of composing. Personally, however,
I found Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos
the most impressive and rewarding of all the compositions included
in this recording. This is probably because I am rather partial
to the cello, as it is one of my favourite instruments. The
other remarkable piece that took me by surprise was Duchiffre’s
magnificent Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba (“Tango”).
The Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos is not only beautiful
but is an effective display vehicle for two cellists with great
ability, which we definitely have in René Schiffer and Susie
Napper. I loved the vibrant, slightly dark but also exotic characteristics
of the piece and the clarity of tone of the two cellos, performed
with great subtlety and flawless technique by the two soloists.
The music, on the one hand, and the sheer beauty of Schiffer’s
and Napper’s interpretation on the other, forced me to return
to the piece two or three times before listening to the rest
of the CD.
Duchiffre’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba (“Tango”)
took me by surprise, as I mentioned above, not only because
the solo instruments were violas da gamba (who writes nowadays
for an instrument which is firmly in the past?) but also because
I assumed that it would be modern music and modernity in music
does not always appeal to me. It is actually not modern but
it certainly is an incredibly beautiful piece, composed in a
manner that Vivaldi would also have adopted. The concerto very
effectively combines the old and the contemporary, as it finishes
with an infectious tango that will make you want to dance no
matter what. René Duchiffre is the pseudonym of René Schiffer,
a wonderful cellist, who here also plays one of the viola da
gambas and is wonderfully partnered by Ann Marie Morgan on the
other. He’s a talented composer as well. Schiffer, as mentioned
in the booklet, uses the alias Duchiffre when composing in historic
style, which is what he did when writing this concerto.
Jeannette Sorrell, a distinguished and talented conductor and
harpsichordist, is the founder of the Baroque Orchestra “Apollo’s
Fire” - created in 1992. She also arranged two of Vivaldi’s
pieces presented in this CD: La Folia and L’Estate.
Of the two, La Folia is to my mind the most effective.
The word “Folia” comes from the Portuguese. It was a dance that
originated in Portugal (and possibly Spain), usually performed
by the peasant girls in the 16th century though its
origins go back in time to when the Moors occupied the Iberian
peninsula. The name folia is still used in Portugal today
though not to designate a dance. Normally it refers to wild
moments during a party or to a particularly pleasurable lifestyle.
Sorrell arranged Vivaldi’s original sonata as a concerto
grosso, in her own words “... so that all of us [Apollo’s
Fire Baroque Orchestra] could join in the fray”. Vivaldi’s sonata
was very appealing but I have to say that I prefer it in Sorrell’s
arrangement. As the whole orchestra plays it, the music becomes
more vivid and the contagious rhythms are much more effective
than in the sonata format.
Apollo’s Fire is an excellent baroque orchestra and all the
soloists are superb in every single piece. Vivaldi’s Concerto
in B minor for Four Violins is one of the many highlights
of this recording, spectacularly performed by Cynthia Roberts,
Emlyn Ngai, Naomi Guy and Min-Young Kim, as the solo violins.
The same can be said of the four harpsichordists, Jeannette
Sorrell, Michael Sponseller, Janina Ceaser and Paul Jenkins,
who perform Bach’s transcription of the same piece.
My favourite is Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos
but that is simply because of my love for the instrument. However,
it is difficult to determine if one piece is better or more
beautiful than the next. The truth is that this recording is
a fresh but simultaneously authentic take on Vivaldi and a pure
delight from beginning to end. I would recommend it to “die-hard”
Vivaldi fans but also as a lovely introduction to people who
might not be so familiar with the composer or with Baroque music.
Cynthia Roberts, Emlyn Ngai, Naomi Guy, Min-Young Kim (solo
violins) - Vivaldi Concerto in B minor for four violins
René Schiffer, Susie Napper (solo cellos) - Vivaldi Concerto
in G minor for two cellos
Jeannette Sorrell, Michael Sponseller, Janina Ceaser, Paul Jenkins
(harpsichords) - Bach Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords
René Schiffer, Ann Marie Morgan (solo violas da gamba) - Duchiffre
Concerto in D minor for two violas da gamba