Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Vivaldi’s Children: Flute Concertos, Op.10
Op.10/1 in F, RV433 (Tempesta di mare; Storm at Sea) [6:13]
Op.10/2 in g minor, RV439 (La notte; Night) [8:56]
Op.10/3 in D, RV428 (Il gardellino; The Goldfinch) [9:02]
Op.10/4 in G, RV435 [6:58]
Op.10/5 in F, RV434 [8:09]
Op.10/6 in G, RV437 (Il cavallo; The Horse) [7:32]
Wissam Boustany (flute)
Peter Manning, Stephen Morris (violins); Philip Dukes (viola); Tim Hugh (cello); Mary Scully (double bass); Steven Devine (harpsichord)
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, UK, 19-21 February 1998. DDD.
Formerly available on BOU1103.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6167 [47:21]
A shorter version of this review has appeared in my February 2012/2 Download Roundup – here.
First let me clear one issue concerning the charitable status of the recording. I wondered in my download review how account could be kept of the promise to donate £1 to SOS Children’s Village for every CD sold. I wasn’t impugning Wissam Boustany’s motives, merely wondering how account could be kept of the number of downloads as opposed to CDs sold. I’ve received an assurance from him that the donations made are likely to exceed the number of recordings sold, presumably in any format. To make sure, however, you can always buy the physical CD direct from MusicWeb International – post-paid anywhere in the world for a keen price.
The six Op. 10 Flute Concertos rank high in the list of Vivaldi’s most popular music after the Op. 8 set, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, especially the first four concertos, the Four Seasons and the Op. 3 set known as L’estro armonico. The Naxos Music Library alone lists 27 versions of the first concerto, Op.10/1, La tempesta di mare. There are several good recordings in the current catalogue in all price ranges, with accompanying ensembles of varying sizes, on modern instruments and period instruments, even recordings of the concertos in earlier forms before inclusion in the Op.10 set, but, to my mind, no absolute winner.
The new recording from Nimbus comes with two special features. The first is the use of a small accompanying ensemble of modern instruments. I’ll allow Wissam Boustany to state the second in his own words:
“To love Vivaldi’s music is to love nature, life and all things perpetual, aesthetic and ecstatic. So many years after Vivaldi lived out his life (1678-1741), we still enjoy his colourful, energetic music all over the world. This is proof that certain inner revelations can indeed be shared across generations and boundaries. Truth will not bow in the face of Time, nor will it cease to demand our attention as the human race progresses determinedly towards nowhere in particular …
“The fact that such a serene observer of Life should have been a priest in the Ospedale della Pieta, a school and orphanage for young girls in Venice, comes as a reassuring reminder that Vivaldi did not hide away from life on a human scale. His work as a priest within the context of this orphanage was probably a very important factor in making his music so popular and relevant in his own time. This is why I have chosen to donate £1 out of the sale of each CD towards the care of abandoned or needy children around the world … This is part of Towards Humanity, my international initiative using the inspirational qualities of music as a catalyst for promoting and raising funds for humanitarian work around the world.
“I can think of no better tribute to Vivaldi’s enduring inspiration to us all, than to be continuing his work helping children towards the fulfilment of their destinies, as he did in his own lifetime. May music live on, converting Inspired Thought into Inspired Reality, for our fragile planet.”
Altruism alone should not be your only guide in deciding whether to purchase this CD; there are other reasons why you should consider doing so.
What I particularly like about this set is that it bridges the different approaches by employing modern instruments, including the double bass, but in chamber proportions. Better still, there’s sheer joy in the faster sections of the music, while the nightmare quality of la Notte is fully brought out, too. I was worried at first that the inclusion of the double bass would mean that it dominated the music, but such is not the case.
My own favourite version of Vivaldi Flute Concertos is not strictly comparable, since it offers some of the concertos in their original forms and on period instruments: Janet See (flute) with members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, approximately twice the number of the players on the Boustany recording, directed by Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi, no longer available on CD: download as a 2-CD set with Vivaldi Recorder Concertos from amazon.co.uk - here). I therefore originally made my detailed comparison with two Naxos recordings: the complete Op.10 from the Esterházy Sinfonia directed from the flute by Béla Drahos (8.553101) and Famous Flute Concerti (Jirí Válek, flute, with the Capella Istropolitana/Jaroslav Kr(e)cek, 8.554053).
Since I wrote the download roundup I’ve also been listening with enjoyment to a recording from Eckart Haupt (flute) and the Dresden Bach Soloists under Peter Schreier on Berlin Classics 0013522BC. That recording contains the RV104 version of la Notte and Op.10/1 and Op.10/3 and can be downloaded from classicsonline.com in good mp3 for just £4.99.
If you subscribe to the valuable Naxos Music Library, you can make the comparison yourself: as well as the new Nimbus recording, the two from Naxos and the Berlin Classics, you’ll also find comparable versions from Jennifer Stinton with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra and Christophers (Alto ALC1059, at budget price – see review), Emmanuel Pahud with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti (EMI 3472122), together with period-instrument versions which I won’t consider here except to note the existence of two stylish recordings featuring Barthold Kuijken on Accent ACC24241 (Op.10 plus RV783 and RV533 with La Petite Bande) and flute concertos not from Op.10 on Opus 111/Naïve OP30298 (with Academia Montis Regalis), both of which you can check out from the Naxos Music Library.
Taking La Notte and Il Gardellino as examples of two different moods – emphatically not the same concerto twice – I began with Pahud’s evocation of the nightmares and none-too-peaceful rest of the former. Heard immediately afterwards, Boustany’s flute sings more clearly against the smaller-scale accompaniment. He gives a little more weight to the opening largo, which I thought very effective, and takes the following presto – the fantasmi (phantasms) of Vivaldi’s title – at about the same speed as Pahud. I thought that he missed some degree of the sleeper’s agitation here and even more so in the allegro finale, where the Australian version really captures the mood of tossing and turning, but he represents the heavy mood of the largo representing il sonno (sleep) perhaps better than Pahud.
Turning to Drahos, the opening largo is perhaps a little drawn out and the following fantasmi not quite scary enough, though more so than from Boustany. In il sonno he takes the largo faster and the final allegro slower than Pahud. As with Boustany, I thought the heavy mood of the former very well captured but the restlessness of the finale less well portrayed than by Pahud.
Stinton, too, takes the opening largo more slowly than Pahud – there seems to be a consensus time for this movement of a little over two minutes as opposed to Pahud’s 1:42. Her fantasmi are just as agitated as his – both score over Boustany here, I think.
My attention was drawn to the Berlin Classics recording by hearing Op.10/3, Il Gardellino, on BBC Radio 3. This is one of those pieces of music which always cheers me up and it’s been a favourite ever since I heard it played by I Musici in time long past, an entrancing recording from memory, though I haven’t revisited it recently and it may well sound a little leaden by comparison with newer accounts. In fact timings vary very considerably for Il gardellino and that the tempi on that recording are the slowest of all that I checked. I wasn’t surprised that Boustany is one of the fastest, but the differences don’t seem that great as one listens:
Eckart/Schreier: 4:19+3:01+2:52 = 10:12
See/McGegan: 4:02+2:40+2:51 = 9:53
Drahos: 3:47+2:56+2:53 = 9:36
Pahud/Tognetti: 3:48+2:33+2:48 = 9:09
Boustany: 3:28+2:49+2:45 = 9:02
Holtslag/Wentz (Challenge Classics): 4:02+1:38+2:39 = 8:19
If Eckart brings out the lyricism of the music slightly more fully, especially in the first two movements, where Boustany makes us a little more aware of the sheer delight of the bird, the differences are minimal and I’d be perfectly happy to live with any of these versions. Listening extremely critically, Eckart perhaps makes too many pregnant pauses where Boustany gets on with the business in hand. She strikes just the right balance, but her recording doesn’t include the other Op.10 concertos and you’re not likely to notice the difference by listening to six versions of this concerto one after the other as I did for comparison.
Among modern instrument versions Pahud lingers for the view occasionally in the first movement but on the whole joins Boustany in getting the balance right. As with La Notte, these both seem to me consistently satisfying modern-instrument versions.
Holtslag takes what I think much too fast a tempo for Largo, which the other versions, including Boustany get just right. On the other hand, I thought that Holtslag and Wentz dallied a little too long to view the scenery in the first movement; albeit that the scenery is beautiful, Eckart does much the same without lingering too long.
The Nimbus Alliance recording is good – my fear that the double bass might dominate the proceedings proved ungrounded; that’s probably due in no small part to the engineering balance. I like the way in which the continuo is occasionally heard – it shouldn’t be obtrusive, but all too often nowadays the balance obliterates it. The booklet, however, is a doubtful benefit. Boustany follows his worthy but wordy appreciation of Vivaldi with a bland ‘so much has already been written about the historical aspects of Vivaldi’s music’ – how helpful is that for beginners? – and some ‘notes’ on the music which I found unhelpful.
Of the first concerto he writes:
Fluid Food of life
Eternity Laughing out of Each Drop!
Grateful Living Creatures on Earth
Worship your Soothing Wetness.
What’s that about and what happened to the storm at sea which Vivaldi names in the title of this concerto? The other two works with titles, La notte and Il gardellino receive descriptions a little less removed from the nightmarish mood of the first and the cheerful birdsong of the second, but still far less helpful than the explicit titles attached to the movements of the former.
There is one huge snag, concerning the very short playing time of just over 47 minutes. Pahud adds RV440 and RV429 and runs to 65 minutes; even the budget price recordings on Regis, Naxos and Alto contain more music – could the performers not have added a couple of other flute concertos? Since I mentioned this, Mr Boustany has emailed me to explain his reasons for not including any fillers:
“Your point about the short playing time of the cd is also very important, of course. When I made the recording I thought of including a couple of other pieces, but this group of six concertos was so tidy and self-sufficient ... it felt like adding more would somehow diminish the impact of these exquisite musical jewels. I didn’t want to stuff the cd, just because there was time left, so I decided in favour of keeping the cd lean and focused. Maybe I was wrong to do that, but when you buy a beautiful book that is a complete statement within itself, you don’t measure it by the pages in relation to the cost - I believe the true value should lie in the completeness of message within. More is not always better, in my view (oh no... I am beginning to sound like George Osborne and his tiresome austerity measures now!). Seriously though, I do concede that some people might feel short-changed by the length of the playing time (hopefully the charity dimension might help make up for this?)”
Point taken. In any case, whatever you may think of the issue of playing time, I doubt that you would have reason to regret purchasing the CD. You would be obtaining a set of performances that I’m very happy to live with and you’d be assisting a good cause. The bottom line with any review CD is whether or not I keep it in an over-crowded collection. On this occasion the answer is yes.
As I was completing this review I noticed that Nimbus Alliance have added a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Op.8/1-4, plus two concertos for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, RV581 and 582, performed by David Juritz and the London Mozart Players. It’s a glorious free-wheeling and dramatic performance, dating from 1999 and issued on NI6149; I’m pretty sure to add it to my benchmark recordings for these works. It can be sampled, complete with booklet, from the Naxos Music Library.
Fine performances of attractive music and in support of a good cause.