Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
The Art of Vivaldi's Lute
Sinfonia for strings and b.c. in d minor (RV 127) [4:22]
Concerto for two violins, lute and b.c. in D (RV 93) [9:57]
Trio for violin, lute and b.c. in g minor (RV 85) [9:00]
In turbato mare irato, motet for soprano, strings and b.c. (RV 627) [16:24]
Trio for violin, lute and b.c. in C (RV 82) [9:14]
Concerto for viola d'amore, lute, strings and b.c. in d minor (RV 540) [12:51]
Sinfonia for strings and b.c. in g minor (RV 157) [5:54]
Ronn McFarlane (lute), C. Ann Loud, Marlisa del Cid Woods (violin), William Bauer (viola d'amore), Jennifer Ellis Kampanis (soprano)
The Bach Sinfonia/Daniel Abraham
rec. 9-10 May 2010, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Spencerville, MD, USA. DDD

The title of this disc leads one to expect pieces with a solo part for the lute. One wonders why three compositions have been included without a lute part. The reason is that in the motet and the two sinfonias the basso continuo is performed on theorbo, a lute with longer bass strings. This is joined by the lute in the motet. That results in a characteristic sound which is more intimate than with a harpsichord playing the bass part. Intimacy is a feature of this recording anyway. Some fast movements are played in a more moderate tempo than we are used to hear in Vivaldi's music, in particular in performances by Italian ensembles.

The fact that Vivaldi wrote a number of pieces for instrumental ensemble with a solo part for the lute is remarkable. Since the renaissance the lute had mainly been used as a solo instrument, to accompany singers and as part of an ensemble of various instruments. When the concertante style emerged in the early 17th century the lute - and in particular the theorbo - was used in the basso continuo. Compositions for lute solo with other instruments were rare in Italy. Most pieces of this kind were written by composers north of the Alps, in particular in Germany. It is assumed that the Concerto in D (RV 93) and the two trios were composed around 1730 when Vivaldi is thought to have stayed in Prague for a while. That could explain the solo role for the lute. The trios are obviously meant as chamber music, but the concerto is also likely to have been intended for a performance with one instrument per part, as on this disc. The lack of a part for the viola is in indication of this.

The Concerto in d minor (RV 540) is a special case; it is Vivaldi's only concerto for this combination. He was one of the first composers to write any concertante music for the viola d'amore. In his oeuvre we find six solo concertos and a concerto da camera with a viola d'amore part. Furthermore he used it as an obbligato instrument in arias in some vocal works. In the concerto the viola d'amore and the lute are treated on equal terms in the fast movements. In the largo the focus is on the viola d'amore whereas the lute is reduced to playing arpeggios.

The Sinfonias which open and close this disc belong to a considerable number of pieces which are referred to as concerti ripieni. They are scored for strings and b.c. and don't include any solo episodes. They are mostly very short - every movement taking barely two minutes or less. That depends on the choice of tempi and here these are mostly on the moderate side. It works quite well in the Sinfonia in d minor (RV 127) but less so in the Sinfonia in g minor (RV 157) where I find them just too slow.

In the trios and the concertos the tempi of the fast movements are also moderate. It lends them much grace, which suits these pieces well. Ronn McFarlane gives very fine performances of the solo parts. The violin and viola d'amore parts are also nicely played. I am less pleased by William Bauer's vibrato now and then in the largo of the Concerto in d minor.

Lastly the motet: it is very much in the style of Vivaldi's chamber cantatas. Like these the motets were first and foremost vehicles for the soloist to show his or her skills. Jennifer Ellis Kampani's skills are considerable as she convicingly deals with the many coloraturas, in particular in the opening aria. She has a pleasant voice which is perfectly suited to this repertoire.

It rounds off a programme which is varied and entertaining, and gives a good impression of Vivaldi's writing for the lute. The performances generally focus on the more intimate and graceful side of Vivaldi's oeuvre. There are no exaggerations as one meets them now and then in Italian performances of this repertoire.

Johan van Veen

A varied and entertaining programme which gives a good impression of Vivaldi's writing for the lute.