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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto RV433 in F major 'La tempesta di mare' Op.10 No.1 [5.42]
Concerto RV439 in G minor 'La notte' Op.10 No.2 [8.31]
Concerto RV428 in D major 'Il gardellino' Op.10 No.3 [8.21]
Concerto RV435 in G major Op.10 No.4 [6.50]
Concerto RV434 in F major Op.10 No.5 [7.43]
Concerto RV437 in G major Op.10 No.6 [8.22]
Vincent Lucas (flute)
Toulouse Chamber Orchestra/Gilles Colliard
rec. 2017, l'Auditorium de l'Escale, Tournefeuille, France
INDESENS INDE109 [45.42]

The commonly repeated quip that Vivaldi did not write 500 concertos but the same concerto 500 times, attributed to Stravinsky or maybe Dallapiccola, does have some relevance when considering these six. They most certainly do not sound like the same concerto six times, but it is true that only one of the set was written especially for the publication of Vivaldi's Opus 10. The remaining five are all rearrangements, or even rearrangements of rearrangements, from other works including the over-famous 'Four Seasons'. At the time he was approached for a set of Flute Concertos Vivaldi was very busy indeed with opera productions and touring as both opera composer and as a violin virtuoso. He had little time for original composition. Another link to Stravinsky is the issue of money. The Russian was famous for his interest in being properly paid for his work (and why not?). Vivaldi's Amsterdam publisher, Michel Charles Le Cèn was well aware of the popularity of the Italian concerto, of the declining popularity of the recorder and the rising popularity of the transverse flute. Why not, he thought, ask the most popular Italian to write some concertos for the flute? These would go down well with the public, there being more amateur flute players than amateurs of the violin or oboe - for which many concertos had been published. By the late 1720s no one had published any sets of flute concertos and thus he would make some more money. To the modern music lover the idea of a concerto making money might seem strange. Don't you need an expensive orchestra? No, you don't. The Italian 'concerto' was generally scored for none, or just one or two solo players, with a very small group to accompany. Maybe just four or five players were needed; two violins, viola, harpsichord and sometimes an additional instrument to play the bass line. This music could be played at home and music publishers made considerable sums selling sheet music to well-hee led families and groups of amateurs for whom playing was a mainstream pursuit.

All this explains the interest value of the accompanying liner notes for this new CD by Vincent Bernhardt, a professor of organ and basso continuo as well as a busy practicing musician. He goes into considerable detail about the sources of these six flute concerti and after reading, there might be many Vivaldi enthusiasts who will be seeking out performances of yet more concerti to hear how much they differ. I should add that Vivaldi wrote quite a few more concertos for the flute including at least one for two flutes that are not part of the Opus 10 set. To add more complexity, the descriptive title carried by Op.10 No.1 is used again by Vivaldi for an entirely different concerto, Op.8 No.5 for violin and strings. For all that this set of concertos was mostly not original and put together in a hurry, the character of each work is distinct, ranging from the dramatic to the gently lyrical and often displaying the composer's penchant for musical scene painting. Nothing in these twenty-one movements - No.2 has six movements - is remotely dull and one is often struck by the beauty of the slow movements as well as the fierce virtuosity of the fast ones. Fierce virtuosity is very much what one gets in these modern performances. Vincent Lucas is the proud owner of a Muramatsu flute and he does make the most beautiful sound with it even when playing at breakneck speeds. The Toulouse Chamber Orchestra add lustre to an already burnished reputation and match Lucas mood by mood with a spectacular display of what one might call historically informed modernism. The performances are never heavy but always crisp and cleanly executed. It would probably not be possible for a period player to play this fast and that gives the disc a dynamism that has to be heard, even by the HIP enthusiast.

In fairness, I like period performance and always try to listen to Baroque music in particular played in such a way. I compared this CD with Barthold Kuijken's SACD on Accent, which includes two more flute concertos as well as playing everything slower, making their disc seem a good deal better value than this one in terms of length. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed but also gains from an evenly balanced interplay between the soloist and the other players. I particularly like the use of a violoncello da spalla as the basso continuo instrument because of its combination of pitch and clarity. The bass line doesn't thump along, it sings. Added to these advantages, and they are considerable, is the lovely spacious multichannel recording. Why oh why have so many given up on this clearly better technology? Sound quality now is no better than it was in the 1960s. Stereo was very good then, and still is. But this is 2018 and we should be demanding our surround rights!!

This new CD is short measure but a great listen. It is very expensive for 45 minutes but if you do not mind that, then buy it with confidence; also buy Accent ACC 24241 and hear what Vivaldi expected you to hear.

Dave Billinge


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