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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Stravaganza - 12 concerti op. 4
Concerto in B flat, op. 4,1 (RV 383a) [8:07]
Concerto in e minor, op. 4,2 (RV 279) [9:47]
Concerto in G, op. 4,3 (RV 301) [9:21]
Concerto in a minor, op. 4,4 (RV 357) [8:30]
Concerto in A, op. 4,5 (RV 347) [9:16]
Concerto in g minor, op. 4,6 (RV 316a) [9:46]
Concerto in C, op. 4,7 (RV 185) [8:13]
Concerto in d minor, op. 4,8 (RV 249) [7:17]
Concerto in F, op. 4,9 (RV 284) [7:18]
Concerto in c minor, op. 4,10 (RV 196) [8:23]
Concerto in D, op.4,11 (RV 204) [6:38]
Concerto in G, op. 4,12 (RV 298) [9:23
Armoniosa/Francesco Cerrato (violin)
rec. 2014, concert hall of Marienmünster Abbey, Germany. DDD

Antonio Vivaldi was one of the greatest violinists of his time. This perhaps explains why he composed a large oeuvre for his own instrument, especially solo concertos. This was a relatively new concept, although Vivaldi cannot be considered the 'inventor' of the genre. In the last decades of the 17th century several composers wrote sinfonias for an ensemble of strings to one of which they gave a number of solo passages. In other cases an additional instrument was added which was accorded a solo role, for instance the trumpet. These pieces were dominated by polyphony. All this was going to change after the turn of the century. In this development Vivaldi played a key role.

In 1711 the Amsterdam music publisher Estienne Roger printed a collection of twelve concertos by Vivaldi as his op. 3, under the title of L'Estro Armonico. These were scored for strings with solo parts for one to four violins; some of them also include a solo part for the cello. In this collection counterpoint remained a major feature. Its role gradually diminished in the development of the solo concerto during the 18th century. It was this factor that prevented the form from being universally embraced. The German composer Telemann, for instance, was pretty critical about the genre of the solo concerto as he didn't like virtuosity for its own sake. Another outspoken critic was the English composer Charles Avison who considered Vivaldi one of the composers "whose compositions being equally defective in various harmony and true invention are only fit amusement for children (...)". One of the main promotors of Handel's music, William Hayes, even stated that Italian solo concertos were "flashy, frothy Trifles", but was more positive about Vivaldi, who excelled in "brilliance of fancy and execution".

The concerti op. 3 found a wide reception, and in 1716 the same publisher printed another edition of twelve concertos, the op. 4 under the title of La Stravaganza. They mark a further step in the direction of the purely solo concerto as they are all scored for solo violin, strings and bc, although some include short solo parts for a second violin and a cello. All the concertos are in three movements: fast - slow - fast, except No. 7 which has the texture of the Corellian sonata da chiesa, with four movements. The most unusual piece is No. 8 which includes daring harmonic progressions, especially in the second adagio, and which opens with an episode for solo violin and basso continuo.

The solo parts in this collection are certainly demanding, but not of the same level of virtuosity as the concertos Vivaldi never published and which he may have kept for his own use or for the most gifted girls from the Ospedale della Pietà. It is notable that there is little double stopping; it appears only in the Concerto No. 5. The slow movements of three concertos (2, 3 and 5) where Vivaldi has completely written out the ornamentation are interesting. This gives the modern interpreter some useful information about the ornamentation practice of the time, and especially in Vivaldi's oeuvre. The slow movements are generally quite expressive, and it is hard not to think here of the many operas Vivaldi composed. The closing 12th concerto has a surprise in that the second movement takes the form of a chaconne.

"The slow movement of the eleventh concerto is also remarkable in that the bass line can only be performed by the cello, being written as an Alberti bass with complete chords, making a chordal instrument superfluous": so writes Irmlind Capelle in her liner-notes. It comes as a surprise, then, that in this recording we hear a harpsichord in this movement. It is too prominent, largely overshadowing the cello. It also has too much of a presence in the second adagio from the Concerto No. 8.

These are some of the questionable features of this recording. I was also surprised by the rather slow tempo of the opening allegro from the Concerto No. 6. In general the contrast between the fast and the slow movements is too slight. I compared these performances in some concertos with the recording by Rachel Podger and Arte dei Suonatori (Channel Classics, 2003) and I noted that the latter plays most fast movements faster and the slow movements slower. The former don't sound rushed and the latter don't drag, and that is why I find them more satisfying given the tempi adopted in the present recording. The soloists and leader of the ensemble, Francesco Cerrato, plays the solo parts very well and acts as a true primus inter pares, as he should. However, although these performances are not devoid of drama and contrast, as a whole I find them too restrained. It is nice that this ensemble avoids the eccentricities which spoil recordings by some Italian orchestras, but they have gone a little too far in their moderation.

La Stravaganza is considerably less popular that the op. 3 and op. 8 groups, the latter including the 'Four Seasons'. Therefore the release of a recording of this collection is welcome. However, as far as interpretation is concerned I prefer Rachel Podger's recording which does better justice to the peculiarities of Vivaldi's concertos.

Johan van Veen


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