L'Estro Armonico - Concertos Op.3 (1711):-
No.1 RV549 in D minor for 4 violins, cello and strings [10:09]
No.2 RV578 in G minor for 2 violins, cello and strings [8:41]
No.3 RV310 in G minor for violin and strings [6:51]
No.6 RV356 in A minor for violin and strings [7:09]
No.8 RV522 in A minor for 2 violins and strings [10:09]
No.9 RV230 in D major for violin and strings [6:59]
No.10 RV580 in B minor for 4 violins, cello and strings [8:46]
No.11 RV565 in D minor for 2 violins, cello and strings [9:00]
Jonathan Godfrey, Oleg Sulyga, Noel Martin, Hae-a Lee (violins); Barrett Sills (cello)
Mercury Baroque/Antoine Plante
rec. The Clarion Theatre, Brazosport, Texas, USA, March 2010.
MERCURY BAROQUE/HPR 84501 38529 [66:14]
Vivaldi's great set of concertos was published by Estienne Roger in 1711. Following on the publication of just two sets of sonatas in the previous few years, neither of which had made much of an impression, this set became his European breakthrough. A lot of these works had been circulated in manuscript over the previous decade, so gathering them together like this was simply shrewd marketing. They range from concertos for single violin through to those for four violins. The most significant measure of their quality is that J.S. Bach transcribed no less than six of them for other instrumental forces. Over the last forty years recordings of these concertos have seen L'Estro Armonicogo from a set of interesting rarities to daily bread for both performers and listeners. Your reviewer has three complete sets from these years representing the best of each style. The Lucerne Festival Strings under Rudolf Baumgartner (Archiv) reflect the conventional 'authentic' style of the late 1960s. The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood (L'Oiseau-Lyre) offer the 'original instrument' view of the early 1980s. The Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone (Arts - surround) show what wilder flights of performance fancy were current in 2003. All these sets are amongst the most played in my collection.
So what is one to expect from an unknown baroque orchestra from Texas? Let me say straight away, they are absolutely superb! Mercury Baroque have been established for ten years. They hail from Houston and perform the full range of music expected from a modern day baroque orchestra, ranging from small ensemble to opera. They play on original instruments and are heard regularly on Houston Public Radio's KUHF 88.7 FM as well as in their local concert season and on tour. Most recently they visited Paris (the French one) performing Lully’s Armide. You will find none of this information with this economically packaged CD. There are no notes on the music or the performers, just simple listings of content and who plays what, all contained in a simple card folder with CD holder. For those of us with web access - all readers of MusicWeb International - that is no problem. As to the performances, Mercury Baroque are imaginative in their use of ornamentation, the theorbo tells nicely throughout, but not as daring as Accademia Bizantina or the likes of the Venice Baroque Orchestra in this sort of repertoire. They are most similar to the Academy of Ancient Music except they play the fast movements faster. The continuo of theorbo, violone and harpsichord is subtly balanced and comes across as it would live, giving a nice even sound to the ensemble. Slow movements are as beautiful as you could wish. What a spectacular lyricist Vivaldi was! The fast movements are, as noted, very fast but flawless in their execution. The orchestra radiates enjoyment. The recording took place in The Clarion Theatre of Brazosport College near the Gulf Coast south of Houston. This auditorium is a small (600+) modern construction which appears to make much use of wood. The sound is clean and clear down to the finest detail but does lack the spaciousness, bass richness and extension found in recordings from the likes of Venetian churches. Nevertheless this is a very good CD recording of some very fine performances which can withstand comparison with any I have heard. The Op.3 set is not complete, it will not fit on one CD anyway, but these eight concertos provide over an hour of great listening. I hope that when Mercury Baroque raise the funds for another European visit they will come to the UK. I shall be at the front of the queue for seats. Fantastic!
Dave Billinge 

Eight concertos from Vivaldi's great L'Estro Armonico, performed as well as it is possible to imagine and excellently recorded.