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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerti per flauto
Concerto in C major, RV444 [8:36]
Concerto in F major, RV433 ‘La tempesta di mare’ [5:42]
Concerto in C major, RV443 [11:05]
Cum dederit from Nisi Dominus, RV608 [5:06]
Concerto in C minor, RV441 [10:34]
Concerto in A minor, RV445 [9:44]
Concerto in F major, RV442 [8:48]
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini (recorders)
rec. 2011/17, Sala Ghislieri, Academia Montis Ragalis, Mondoví, Italy
ALPHA CLASSICS 364 [59:45]

English speaking listeners should beware – ‘flauto’ in the Italian title of this disc is not qualified by ‘traverso’ (transverse) and so the recorder is meant, not the sideways-held flute familiar from modern symphony orchestras. It is true that in the Baroque period the two instruments were often interchangeable, and music written for one was often also performed on the other – or rather the composer would leave the specification of the instrument deliberately vague. Certainly Vivaldi often adapted music he had written for the transverse flute to be played on the recorder, in particular most of the fine concertos of his Opus 10 set, treasured by many flautists. Giovanni Antonini has already surveyed the alternative guises of those concertos, along with the composer’s chamber concertos which feature the flute or recorder on a four-disc set for Teldec Classics, but Vivaldi also wrote a clutch of original concertos for the recorder which constitute some of the most celebrated repertoire for the instrument.

Indeed, as a composer always experimenting with different instrumental timbres in his concertos, he used different members of the recorder family even across this fairly small number of works. The instrument with which many people will be familiar – if only from early music lessons at school – is the treble recorder, confusingly also called the alto recorder, as employed in RV441, RV 442, and this version of RV433 (the well-known ‘La tempesta di mare’ concerto), the latter two also featuring in the Opus 10 publication. That instrument is distinguished from the ‘flautino’ or sopranino recorder, reserved for RV443 to RV445. If songbirds could learn the rules and aesthetics of Western Classical music, I sometimes think that they would warble the solo parts of these concertos.

Directing his ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico, as well as playing, Antonini tends to set off each concerto in a robust fashion, as though meaning to contrast the vigorously bowed and plucked strings of the ritornelli – resonant theorbo featuring as a part of the continuo line along with the harpsichord – with the timbral delicacy of the recorder in the solo episodes.  RV444 in particular sounds energetic, even impetuous, whilst the lively, sprung opening of RV443 sets the soloist on his way, before launching on a dazzling display of stratospheric arpeggios. The finale of RV441 in C minor reverses that, with the deliberate drag imparted to the syncopated crotchet melody of its main theme by Il Giardino Armonico contrasting with the brisker sequence of semiquaver arpeggios in the solo part, although Antonini still contrives a wan timbre for that, in keeping with the dark key. Otherwise he executes the rapid volley of notes in all the other fast movements on this disc with exemplary accuracy, each note coming off with an appropriately avian crispness. That cuts through the bustle of the strings, even in the upheaval which depicts a storm in the famous concerto ‘La tempesta di mare’, which rarely sounds as tempestuous as it does here.

The more sustained tones of the slow movements are held with an almost piercing clarity, almost mesmerising in the secure line of the notes, rarely using any vibrato, but only occasionally breaking out into a slight wobble for expressive emphasis. The Largo of ‘La tempesta di mare’ is a good case in point where, in contrast with the teeming outer movements, Antonini creates an unworldly stillness on the recorder, evoking the calm waters of the Venetian lagoon in between outbursts of the storm. Where any section in the slow movements is asked to be repeated, Antonini observes that, playing the music through the first time simply as written, and then ornamenting it on the second. The filigree solo line of RV444’s Largo is written out by Vivaldi, but with additional ornaments notated as well, and so the rapid flourishes of Antonini’s spontaneous execution of these sound like a bird on a high. For some that may be distracting, but it accords with the extravagant vitality of Antonini’s readings overall. 

As a filler comes a version of ‘Cum dederit’ from the Nisi Dominus RV608 for chalumeau, a precursor to the clarinet insofar as it is a single reed instrument, and so perhaps best placed of all woodwind instruments to substitute for the human voice of the original. It is one of the most hauntingly eerie works by any composer of any period, complementing the same Siciliana rhythm and minor mode of RV442’s slow movement. The straightforward honesty of Antonini’s playing suits it well, although he could be a little less prominent in the overall soundscape in order to capture the drowsy mood referred to in the words of the original, setting the second part of Psalm 127, verse 2.

Whereas Piers Adams tends to take a rather more maverick approach to these concertos with Red Priest's lacklustre accompaniment (review), the readings by Antonini and his ensemble here are consistently stylish and imaginative.

Curtis Rogers

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