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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerti per violino VIII ‘Il teatro'
Violin Concerto in C, Rv187 [12:23]
Violin Concerto in B minor, Rv387 [9:02]
Violin Concerto in D minor, Rv235 [10:58]
Violin Concerto in D, Rv217 [11:20]
Violin Concerto in G minor, Rv321 [8:46]
Violin Concerto in B flat, “Il Carbonelli”, Rv366 [9:30]
Le Concert de la Loge/Julien Chauvin (violin)
rec. 2019, Galerie dorée, Banque de France, Paris. NAÏVE OP30585 [62:10]
Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition, now in its 20th year, has reached volume 63 and the eighth disc devoted to violin concertos. The original intention was to record all the nearly 450 works contained in the Foà and Giordano collection housed in the National Library of Turin, many of which had never been recorded before or heard in public for two centuries. I am afraid I have lost count of where we are in fulfilling that intention, but I really hope the series never comes to an end in my lifetime, for every new release brings remarkable and unmissable musical wonders, both in terms of musical invention and performance.
There used to be a stupid and ignorant remark passed around the self-styled progressive musical community (variously attributed to Stravinsky and Dallapiccola) that Vivaldi composed the same concerto 500 times. It is undeniable that, to produce so much and often in such a short space of time, Vivaldi did resort to time-saving technical devices (such as repetition and sequence) rather more often than any dullard composition teacher would permit from their students, but the material he subjected to repetition and seemingly infinite rows of sequence was of such freshness, originality and sheer genius, that it not only easily withstands such devices, but positively flourishes under the weight of them. Take the vivacious idea sent diving through a descending sequential row after around 1:07 in the last movement of the D minor Concerto, and you will hear exactly what I mean. And, to nail that old stupid and ignorant remark firmly into its coffin, I don’t think I’ve heard this particular musical idea in any of Vivaldi’s other works. The slow movement of the G minor Concerto could almost pass for Handel, while the divine solo theme, so eloquently played by Julien Chauvin in the slow movement of the B flat Concerto (possibly composed as a tribute to the London-based Italian violinist Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli) seems almost as if it were in homage to Purcell. In short, even if you have collected the seven previous discs in this series devoted to Vivaldi’s violin concertos, you will not have heard anything quite like what you find here. What emerges volume after volume in this magnificent series, is the boundless musical inspiration of a composer who, for all his popular appeal, remains largely undervalued by the musical public. (Not to let Stravinsky fully off the hook when it comes to his dismissal of Vivaldi’s genius, he certainly did tell Robert Craft that “Vivaldi is greatly overrated—a dull fellow who could compose the same form so many times over”.)
It has also been something of a touch of genius for Naïve to get so many and varied soloists and ensembles to record these works. Each volume features a different group of players, all of which are united by a passion for this music and a real sense of historical authority. Julien Chauvin is, apparently, the first French violinist to feature as soloist, while also appearing in the series for the first time, Le Concert de la Loge was founded in 2015 (by which time the Naïve Vivaldi Edition had already released over 50 volumes). The aim was to revisit the memory of the famous Concert de la Loge Olympique which flourished in Paris during the 1780s, was renowned as the best orchestra in the world, and was much admired by Haydn who wrote his “Paris” Symphonies for them. Unlike the original orchestra, however, which, with 40 violins and 10 doubles basses, was reputedly the biggest orchestra in Europe, Chauvin’s group is small (16 players – including 9 violins and one double bass - are listed as having participated in this Vivaldi recording), but whether or not they follow the tradition of their predecessors in dressing for every concert in brilliant sky-blue dress coats and sporting ceremonial swords, remains a mystery.
There is no mystery at all about Le Concert de la Loge following in the footsteps of their predecessors by producing playing which is both spectacular and flamboyant. Egged on by Chauvin, who is clearly a remarkably extrovert player, the orchestra bring these six concertos vividly to life through some gloriously exuberant and theatrical gestures. Indeed, the subtitle of this volume of violin concertos is “il teatro”, that title prompted by, as Cesare Fertonani puts it in his outstanding booklet notes, the intertwining “in a continuous and concrete fashion” of operatic and instrumental musical styles. None of these concertos has any direct connection with Vivaldi’s theatrical output, but all of them present something truly dramatic. The most obvious is probably the D major Concerto which, after a typically sequence-laden opening, sees Chauvin burst in with great dramatic flair and tossing off great showers of notes as if waving a glittering magician’s cloak over the proceedings. The music is full of ideas which suddenly break off and violently change direction (Fertonani describes these as “a stream of coups de théâtre”). Vivaldi certainly has given huge opportunities to imaginative and capable players to draw marvellous things from his music, and it is to this ensemble’s eternal credit that they have collectively grasped all of these and run with them in the most gloriously invigorating manner.