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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concertos for Four Violins
Concerto, Op. 3/10 ‘Con quattro Violini e Violoncello obligato’, RV580 [9:24]
Concerto, Op. 3/7 ‘Con quattro Violini e Violoncello obligato’, RV567 [8:26]
Concerto for 4 violins, viola and basso continuo, RV553 [10:15]
Concerto for 3 violins in F, RV551 [10:13]
Concerto, Op. 3/1 ‘Con quattro Violini obligati’, RV549 [7:46]
Concerto, Op.3/4 in e minor for 4 violins, RV550 [7:55]
Stéphanie Pfister, Leila Shayegh, Eva Borkh, David Planter (violin)
Ensemble 415/Chiara Banchini (violin)
rec. Volkshaus, Basel (Switzerland) 27-30 September 2006. DDD
ALPHA 311 [53:59]

The Outhere group, who have produced some very fine recordings of baroque music, have just reissued at budget price fourteen competitive albums, some of them 2-CD sets, from their Alpha and Zig Zag Territoires labels.  Though they come at an attractive price, the booklets have not been skimped and the recordings – all of fairly recent provenance – are good.  I hope to include the whole series in my next Download News: I’m pleased to note that Outhere are now offering their press previews at a higher bit-rate, raised from 192kb/s to 256kb/s – now, perhaps, we can have 320kb/s?  I’ve listened to both the CD and the download for this review.

My only complaint is that whereas the Alpha originals offered artwork contemporary with the music, we now have garish modern covers instead.  The CDs come in a cardboard bi-fold, into opposite sides of which the disc and booklet are slipped.  If you prefer something less flimsy, it’s easy to keep the CD and booklet in a slim-line plastic case.

Three of the first 14 releases are of Vivaldi: as well as this reissue Gli Incogniti and Amandine Beyer play the Four Seasons and other concertos (ALPHA312) and Bruno Cocset and Les Basses Réunies oblige with the Cello Sonatas (ALPHA313, 2 CDs).

The selection of Vivaldi 4-violin concertos is a reissue of Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT070902, released in 2007, which, paradoxically, was still available at full price when I checked.  You should be able to find the reissue for around £7.50 or a little less.

It was originally released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the label and it did so in style.  Four of the concertos come from the Op.3 set, L’Estro Armonico (1711), with two additional works, RV551 and RV553.  Most of the musicians of Ensemble 415, including the other soloists, are ex-pupils of Chiara Banchini and the rapport which she has built with them is apparent from the recording.  If I characterise the performances as comfortable and intimate, emphasising the armonico adjective, that’s by no means intended to denigrate them, though I would need to turn to other interpretations for a greater sense of L’Estro, the strife which forms the other part of the title.  That despite the fact that Chiara Banchini’s assertion that ‘the theatre is implicit in the style of these concertos’ is emblazoned in red across a whole page of the booklet.

The recording matches the performances, emphasising the sense of small-scale, almost domestic music-making.  The notes in the booklet consist of a new (2015) interview with Chiara Banchini in which she puts her finger on what for me are the strengths and weaknesses of the performances: if she re-recorded this music ‘the complicity, the friendship and the pleasure in dialogue would be identical’.

At the time of release one reviewer expressed the hope that the other eight concertos of Op.3 would follow but, to the best of my knowledge, that didn’t happen, so my chief reservation is that, having heard these concertos, you will need the rest of the collection, in which case I recommend the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner, excellent value on a Double Decca two-for-one (E4434762) or, if you prefer original instruments, Rachel Podger with Brecon Baroque (Channel CCSSA36515 – review) or, if you are looking for really energetic interpretations, Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi (Erato Veritas twofer 2564619520 – review of earlier release).  Slightly overshadowed by these but well worth considering is the mid-price 2001 2-CD set from Federico Guglielmo and L’Arte dell’Arco directed by Christopher Hogwood (Chandos CHAN0689 – review – CD or download from, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).

I thoroughly enjoyed the Alpha reissue, along with several other albums from the first release.  If you are looking for civilised and stylish performances of just these concertos you need look no further, especially at the attractive price.  If you prefer something a little less intimate or would like the whole Op.3 set, look elsewhere.  Whichever version you choose, if you enjoy the ubiquitous Four Seasons, you may find that there is even more variety in the Op.3 set and Banchini and her team bring out that variety as well as anyone.

Brian Wilson


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