Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Complete Concertos and Sonatas Opp. 1-12
L'Arte dell'Arco/Federico Guglielmo (solo violin and conductor)
Francesco Galligioni (cello); Pier Luigi Fabretti (oboe); Mario Folena (flute)
rec. Abbazia di Carceri d’Este, Padua and Sala della Carita, Padu, Italy, February 2010-July 2014.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95200 [20 CDs]
Let me start by saying that if ever a super-budget box deserved the epithet ‘Brilliant’ it is this one. Not only does it bring together the first twelve opus numbers of Vivaldi, half of them in a new critical edition, but also they are performed by a first rate ensemble. That we also get excellent sound and notes too makes this set a real winner. Yes, there are other recordings of these particular collections that will still remain my favourites but as a collection this box set stands alone.
No doubt like many others, I was brought up on recordings of this music by either I Musici or I Solisti Veneti with Claudio Scimone. Indeed I still have the Scimone box of the first twelve opus numbers (2564 64320-2). However, in comparison this new set is so much better. Scimone now sounds somewhat old-fashioned and stodgy whereas under Guglielmo this music comes across as fresh and vibrant. I found these 20 discs incredibly easy to listen to; sometimes five or six of them in a single sitting. Not once did my enjoyment of the music or the performances waver. As I have stated above I have favourite versions of most of these works and I will use these in comparison in the rest of this review.
The Trio Sonatas Op. 1 are mainly notable for the inclusion of the twelfth and final sonata which comes in the form of a theme and nineteen variations on La Follia. He my preference lies with L’Estravagante as part of the Naive Vivaldi edition (OP 30535). There is a problem with the Naive disc however, in that it only presents nine of the twelve sonatas. Guglielmo offers all twelve - here spread over the first two discs. It is a real boon to have the full dozen even if I find the performances a bit on the brisk side. Those by L’Estravagante sound a bit more measured yet there are also moments of sheer exhilaration in this new recording.
When it comes to the 12 Concertos Op. 3 known collectively as L’estro armonico, there is a clear winning recording, that by Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque (CCS SA 36515). Theirs is a near perfect performance, one which I feel will be a bench-mark for quite a while to come. In comparison L’Arte dell’Arco give a spirited and exciting performance, one which is very good if not quite up to the Podger standard. The same is true of the op. 4 Concertos La Stravaganza. Here Podger once again rules supreme (CCS SA 19503). Her performance is light, airy and full of grace. Guglielmo is also very fine, but his slightly swifter tempos in key places detracts slightly from the grace that marks Podger’s readings.
The most famous works here are the 12 Concertos op. 8 Il cimento dell’armonica e dell’inventione. Many never get past the first four concertos, the famous Four Seasons. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed Guglielmo’s performance which is full of character and colour. When the text of the poems state that “Spring has come, and joyfully the birds welcome it with cheerful song,” that is exactly what you get. Likewise in ‘Autumn’, when the poem states that “At first light the huntsman sets out with horns, guns and dogs” Guglielmo paints a picture in sound which perfectly portrays the text. I must admit to having a fondness for Il Giardino Armonico’s mid-1990s performance on Teldec (0630-14619-2). It was, along with Hogwood’s famous recording (475 9098), one of the first that showed me what Vivaldi could sound like when a small ensemble employ period instruments. Not only did it give all twelve concertos but it contained the original versions of concertos Nos. 9 and 12 for solo oboe and strings. This new recording also offers these two concertos for oboe with the booklet notes stating that they have been included in this arrangement because the oboe manuscript seems to be older than the versions for violin and strings. However there is plenty of room on these two discs so they could have done what Teldec did and offer both versions of the concertos: the first for oboe, the second for violin.
The op. 9 La Cetra set of 12 concertos is blessed with a number of fine recordings including one by Rachel Podger and Holland Baroque Society (CCA SA 33412). This once again is a performance that is hard to beat. I did however like the way that Guglielmo in this case articulates the opening interplay between the instruments of the ensemble. This is especially true of the first concerto where the blend of strummed strings and harpsichord is beautiful.
The op. 10 concertos for flute and strings were, along with the concertos for lute and mandolin, a mainstay of my teenage years, I much preferred them to the ever-present Four Seasons. Subsequently I have listened to a number of distinguished recordings. Recently I have been enjoying Matthias Naute’s fine recording on Bridge (BRIDGE 9377) which is mainly performed on a recorder. While this may not be to everyone’s taste, the performance is excellent. If it is a version for flute that you are looking for, the present recording featured in this set with Mario Folena, is first rate.
I usually turn to Christopher Hogwood’s recordings of both the op. 11 (436 172-2) and op. 12 (443 556-2), both of which offer the listener a lot of enjoyment. Guglielmo proves himself fully versed in these lesser known works and presents the listener with a first rate interpretation of this music. Yes the sound may not be as authentic as with Hogwood, but his enthusiasm in this music is infectious.
As a bonus, this set offers a twentieth CD featuring 6 Cello Sonatas from the edition Le Clerc le Cadet, Paris 1740. Here Francesco Galligioni approach is measured and thoughtful which makes this disc stand out as more than just a make-weight disc.
To sum up: it all depends on what you require. If you want a first rate set of the first twelve opus numbers of Vivaldi, well look no further. It is streets ahead of the competition. If however, you are looking for the perfect performance of certain opus numbers, then you might want to dip in and choose particular versions. However, the recordings presented here are virtuosic and full of excitement; the brisk tempos see to that. L'Arte dell'Arco prove how adept they are at changing ensemble size without losing any quality of musicianship. I will certainly be returning to this ‘Brilliant’ box as often as I do to my other recordings.
The recorded sound is excellent, as are the notes, which apart from those for op. 6 — which are by Alessandro Borin — are by Federico Guglielmo. They show that he is not only a first-rate solo violinist and concert-master but also a Vivaldi scholar. The notes briefly discuss the problems presented by different editions as well as by spurious collections. They're certainly detailed and very informative.
Full Content List
CDs 1-2 [43:25 + 43:38]
Trio Sonatas Op. 1
CDs 3-4 [48:30 + 43:17]
Violin Sonatas Op. 2
CDs 5-6 [46:57 + 47:17]
12 Concertos Op. 3 L’estro armonico
CDs 7-8 [46:22 + 50:19]
12 Violin Concertos Op. 4 La Stravaganza
CD 9 [48:31]
Violin Sonatas and Trios Op. 5
CD 10 [47:38]
6 Violin Concertos Op. 6
CDs 11-12 [47:06 + 42:49]
12 Concertos Op. 7
CDs 13-14 [54:49 + 53:56]
12 Concertos Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione
CDs 15-16 [53:24 + 52:37]
12 Violin Concertos Op. 9 La Cetra
CD 17 [50:01]
Flute Concertos Op. 10
CD 18 [64:25]
6 Concertos Op. 11
CD 19 [54:08]
6 Concertos Op. 12
CD 20 [73:57]
6 Cello Sonatas RV40, 41, 43, 45, 46, 47