Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Concerti per due violini, archi e basso continuo
Concerto in D (RV 513) [14:10]
Concerto in B flat (RV 526) (ed. F. Ammetto) [7:27]
Concerto in A (RV 520) (ed. F. Ammetto) [9:05]
Concerto in B flat (RV 764) [8:35]
Concerto in A (RV 521) [9:06]
Concerto in B flat (RV 528) [8:24]
Concerto in F (RV 765) [7:09]
Angelo Cicillini and Luca Venturini (violins)
L'Orfeo Ensemble di Spoleto/Fabrizio Ammetto
rec. 10 - 12 August 2009, Pieve romanica di S. Brizio, Spoleto (PG), Italy. DDD
TACTUS TC 672253 [63:56]
The concertos for two violins by Vivaldi are a lesser-known part of his oeuvre. He composed a considerable number of them, though. The 28 concertos for this scoring span almost his entire career. The first examples were included in his collection of 12 concertos which was printed as his op. 3 in 1711 under the title L'Estro Armonico. The latest concerto which can be dated is from 1740. It is not entirely clear for whom these works were intended. Some may have been written as part of Vivaldi's activities as teacher in the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The character of the solo parts is various, and in many cases they are so demanding that they can only be played by real virtuosos. Vivaldi was such a virtuoso himself. In his liner-notes Fabrizio Ammetto comes up with the suggestion that Vivaldi could have played them with his father, Giovanni Battista, a skilled professional violinist and probably his only formal teacher.
The roles of the two violins can greatly differ. Sometimes they play in parallel thirds, elsewhere they are involved in a contrapuntal texture with imitation. There are also episodes in which the second violin accompanies the first or vice versa. Lastly they can develop a dialogue which can take the character of cooperation or rather confrontation. The roles of the violins can change within a single concerto or even movement. That is part of the attraction of these concertos for both performers and listeners.
The programme starts with the Concerto in D (RV 513). It is one of the most virtuosic pieces and the only one which was printed - apart from the op. 3 concertos. The edition dates from 1736 but the concerto was probably written about ten years earlier. Particularly remarkable is the written-out cadenza for both violins in the last movement which includes various modulations.
The Concertos in B flat (RV 526) and in A (RV 520) belong to a collection of twelve which Vivaldi offered to the Habsburg emperor Charles VI. Unfortunately the parts of the first solo violin are missing. These have been reconstructed by Fabrizio Ammetto. The features of the violin parts in the double concertos mentioned above are helpful in the process of reconstruction. This has resulted in two beautiful concertos with a nice interplay of the two solo violins.

The Concerto in B flat (RV 764) is a reworking of a concerto for oboe and violin (RV 548). The largo is especially beautiful, with the two violins involved in an engaging dialogue supported by the basso continuo alone. The Concerto in A (RV 521) is a case of literal imitation between the two violins, and is described by Fabrizio Ammetto as "probably the result of an experiment in polychoral composition". He suggests that Vivaldi may have placed the soloists and even the tutti violins in different locations. It is a most intriguing concerto, with demanding solo parts.
The Concerto in B flat (RV 528), another reconstruction, is also known from Bach's transcription for harpsichord (BWV 980). It exists in another version, with one solo part (RV 381). It seems not quite clear which was the original version. In this version for two violins the second plays a subordinate role; in the slow movement it doesn't participate at all. The liner-notes fail to make clear what exactly has been reconstructed here. The disc ends with the Concerto in F (RV 765) which also exists in a version with violin and organ as solo instruments (RV 767). The technical demands of the soloists are limited here.
This disc is very interesting in regard to the repertoire. No fewer than three concertos (RV 528, 764 and 765) are recorded here for the first time. The fact that some concertos needed to be reconstructed makes this disc even more valuable as such pieces are obviously not often played. Fortunately the interpreters are fully up to the job; their playing is technically sound and they grasp the character of the various concertos well.
Often this kind of music is played with one instrument per part. That is not the case here: the tutti comprises four violins, two violas and two cellos; one of the latter also participates in the basso continuo. The result is a more robust sound and a larger contrast between soli and tutti. It is impossible to say which number of players is closer to the historical truth. It seems that it could vary from one place to another or from one occasion to another. I would have liked a more intimate acoustic, but that in no way diminishes my appreciation for this disc.
Johan van Veen
Three first recordings and three reconstructions are reasons enough to welcome this disc.