Vivaldi and Friends - La Folia (Madness) and Other Concertos
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 580 [9.43]
René DUCHIFFRE (b. 1961) Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba (Tango) [22.23]
Cynthia Roberts, Emlyn Ngai, Naomi Guy, Min-Young Kim (solo violins) on Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for four violins; René Schiffer, Susie Napper (solo cellos) for Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor for two cellos; Jeannette Sorrell, Michael Sponseller, Janina Ceaser, Paul Jenkins (harpsichords) for J. S. Bach’s Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords; René Schiffer, Ann Marie Morgan (solo violas da gamba) for Duchiffre’s Concerto in D minor for two violas da gamba
Apollo’s Fire (The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra) on period instruments/Jeanette Sorrell (conductor/harpsichord)
Arrangements for Vivaldi’s La Folia and L’Estate by Jeannette Sorrell
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.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Accomplished, well judged, satisfying and extremely pleasing ... pure delight from beginning to end.