Antonio Vivaldi and Contemporaries : Virtuoso Recorder Concertos
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in C, RV443 [10:45]
Concerto in c minor, RV441 [10:34]
Concerto in F, RV442 [8:43]
Concerto in C, RV444 [9:21]
Concerto in a minor, RV108 [7:50]
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Concerto in F [13:38]
Jacques-Christophe NAUDOT (1690-1762)
Concerto in G, Op.17/5 [11:05]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Concerto Grosso in d minor [6:37]
Richard Harvey (recorder)
London Vivaldi Orchestra/Monica Huggett, Roy Goodman
rec. EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London (?), c.1982 (?). DDD
ALTUS ALU0002 [79:05]

The main part of this recording first appeared on CD as ASV CDGAU111, itself a reissue of an LP first released in 1982. This makes a nonsense of the date 1998 given for the Altus reissue, though that may well refer to the extra items which have enlarged the original release by 30 minutes. First issued by Altus in 2000, it now reappears with the identical catalogue number. I’ve given the EMI studios as location, as per the information in the Altus booklet, though in 1982 the location was given as Bishopsgate Hall, London.

It’s in no small measure thanks to this recording that I installed a new printer without tears or tantrums in a fraction of its playing time: that’s quicker than any previous installation. If the music didn’t help the process, it certainly assisted my mood and the boredom of watching the paint dry.

We were not short of recordings of the Vivaldi recorder concertos, with at least ten extant versions of RV444, eight of RV442, 41 of RV443, 14 of RV108 and 25 of RV441, one of the best of RV441 also being available as a filler to a highly recommendable budget twofer of L’Estro Armonico from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner (Decca Duo E4434762). Similarly one of the best recordings of RV443 features as the filler for another Decca Duo Vivaldi recording from the ASMF, this time of the Op.9 set, La Cetra (E4481102).

The other works, however, are much less easy to come by: the Naudot has just three recordings to its name, only one of which includes music by Vivaldi (RV443 and 444). The Sammartini has ten recordings but the Scarlatti appears to have only two apart from the present recording.

The new Altus CD, then, offers a unique coupling. It also serves an important function in tracing the rise of the recorder concerto in much the same way, if less comprehensively, as a recent series of recordings on Avie traced the rise of the North Italian Violin Concerto. (AV2106, 2128 and 2154).

With no direct competition, the best choice of a comparison album comes from Hyperion on their budget Helios label: Peter Holtslag, treble and sopranino recorders, and the period-instrument Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman perform RV441, 442, 443, 444, 445 and 108 (CDH55016). The shorter playing time of the Hyperion is amply compensated for by the low price (around 6.50, or 5.99 if downloaded in mp3 or lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from Hyperion). There’s another collection containing the same six concertos plus a sonata, performed by Michael Schneider on CPO (777304-2), on which I found absolutely nothing amiss yet couldn’t bring myself to recommended with enthusiasm – review.

Surprisingly, Holtslag and Holman are slightly slower overall than Richard Harvey in every concerto except RV108. The differences are not huge and there’s no suggestion that Harvey ever sounds rushed: in actuality both sets of performances are stylish and sprightly but not breakneck.

The greatest differences occur in the slow movements, which Harvey tends to take more slowly than Holtslag. In RV443, for example, the largo takes 4:02 against 3:49; of versions which I checked for comparison only two take longer: Il Giardino Armonico (Warner) take 5:19, but they are noted for extremes of tempo. This is my favourite movement of all these concertos and it lends itself to a wide degree of latitude, with Martin Feinstein and the Feinstein Ensemble (BCR) dashing through in 3:02. Both the Hyperion and Altus recordings fall into the middle of the range, along with Hlose Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis (Ambroisie AMB9944, download/stream only, or Nave AM143, 4 CDs) and these three seem to me just right, with the difference between them more apparent on paper than in reality, though it’s obvious that Holtslag keeps the music moving more nimbly than Harvey if you listen consecutively.

Maurice Steger on a recent CD of Vivaldi Concerti per flautino (Harmonia Mundi HMC902190) takes 4:32. A slower tempo allows him decorate the solo part a little more – too much, you may think. I liked this album in general and the slow movements in particular – DL News 2014/12: I should have given the link to – I do think, however, that this movement sounds a bit funereal on rehearing it. See also review by Dominy Clements.

Holtslag opens his recording with RV441. Unusually, he’s marginally slower than Harvey in all three movements of this concerto, not just in the outer movements: 5:04 + 2:41 + 3:49 against Harvey’s 4:40 + 2:15 + 3:39. I very much like Holtslag overall but I do think him a shade too slow at times in this concerto. Most recordings of this work which I value tend to agree with Harvey: Marion Verbruggen, for example, with Nicholas McGegan on a 2-CD Harmonia Mundi album, coupled with Janet See in the Flute Concertos, takes 2:10. (HMX2907340/41, download only.)

The Hyperion is well worth considering, especially as it’s so inexpensive. If you want a rival recording of the Sammartini your best option is Camerata Kln on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, coupled with other works by Giuseppe and Giovanni Battista Sammartini (download only or stream from Qobuz). Alternatively Pamela Thorby with Sonnerie (Linn CKD217, with Telemann Suite in a minor and Vivaldi RV441, 443 and 444 – DL News 2013/13). Good as both of these are, I enjoyed the new Altus recording just as much.

The Naudot concerto was published as a flute concerto, but is usually performed on the recorder, as by Michala Petri with the Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields on a 4-CD set, The Art of the Recorder (Decca Collectors’ Edition E4758464). Again, though I’d be very happy to own the Decca set at its attractive price, I’m more than happy with the Altus. If you are looking for more music by Naudot, there’s a collection of the six Op.11 flute concertos on Hungaroton (HCD31600: Pl Nmeth, wooden flute, and Capella Savaria, download only – from, mp3 and lossless, No booklet). It’s very attractive, if rather inconsequential music.

The Scarlatti is the third of his oddly-named Sinfonie di Concerto Grosso. There are two other concertos from this set on Hyperion Helios CDH55005 at budget price and the complete set is available on Tactus TBB661990, 2 CDs, both of which I reviewed in DL News 2014/14, but the Altus recording is equally recommendable.

The support offered by the London Vivaldi Orchestra is very good – hardly surprising when Monica Huggett is leader/director for most of the concertos and she and Roy Goodman are responsible in the movements where a solo violin is required. Though recorded early in the digital era, the sound is good, with the continuo just audible, as it should be.

The booklet contains helpful notes on the composers and works contained on the CD but, apart from noting that both Vivaldi and Sammartini employed higher-pitched instruments than usual, there’s no description of the recorder employed: it’s a treble or a sopranino recorder for Vivaldi and Scarlatti and a descant instrument for Sammartini.

These small complaints about the documentation apart, then, although there is strong competition for all the music on this album, differently coupled, if the programme appeals, you should be more than happy with the Altus reissue.

Brian Wilson
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