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What’s Next Vivaldi?
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 -1741)
Concerto in E-flat, RV253 ‘La Tempesta di Mare’ per violino, archi e b.c. (‘Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione’, Op.8/5) [8:40]
Lazzo parlante [0:41]
Aureliano CATTANEO (b.1974)
Estroso per violino, flauto dolce, archi, tiorba e cembalo [4:23]
Concerto in g minor, RV157, per archi e b.c. [5:09]
Luca FRANCESCONI (b.1956)
Spiccato il volo per violino solo [3:42]
Concerto in C, RV191, per violino, archi e bc [13:52]
Simone MOVIO (b.1978)
Incanto XIX per flauto dolce, violino e archi [4:07]
Concerto in e minor, RV550, per quattro violini, archi e b.c. (‘L’Estro Armonico’, Op.3/4) [6:43]
Marco STROPPA (b.1959)
Dilanio avvinto per flauto dolce e due violini [2:10]
Giovanni SOLLIMA (b.1962)
‘Moghul’ per violino, flauto dolce, archi e b.c. [4:42]
Concerto in D, RV208 ‘Il Grosso Mogul’ per violino, archi e b.c. [15:44]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Szól a Duda (The Bagpipe) per flauto dolce e violino [0:56]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
with Marco Bianchi, Stefano Barneschi, Liana Mosca (violins in RV550)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini (flauto dolce)
rec. November 2018, Stadttheater Greif, Wels, Austria. DDD
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview
ALPHA 624 [70:54]

Karl Münchinger, thou should’st be living at this hour. Or perhaps not; it’s hard to imagine the reaction to this recording of the conductor who introduced my generation to The Four Seasons and the Brandenburg Concertos. Probably something like the scene in the film Who framed Roger Rabbit? where Roger, upset that his wife was seen playing pat-a-cake, is given a drink and flies through the plate-glass window, leaving a rabbit-shaped hole behind. In fact, an alternative name for this recording might be Who framed Antonio Vivaldi?

It starts well enough with one of Vivaldi’s most colourful works, La Tempesta di Mare, the fifth of the Op.8 concertos, which open with the collection widely known as The Four Seasons. The notes on the page in many of these concertos, properly interpreted, are highly descriptive: a sleeping shepherd, his barking dog, a storm, a hunt, a nightmare and, in this case, a storm at sea. We’re hardly into the first movement, however, when all hell breaks loose with unscripted off-the-wall noises, inspired, we are told, by the ghosts in The Pirates of the Caribbean. I imagine that these noises are supposed to help us imagine the chaos of a shipwreck, but Vivaldi does that well enough with the resources at his disposal, as Shakespeare did with words alone at the opening of The Tempest – perhaps with a little shaking of a tin foil sheet.

One of my favourite recordings of the complete Op.8 set is also one of the least expensive, from Federico Guglielmo and L’Arte dell’Arco on Brilliant Classics 95045: Recording of the Month – review. Of course, I wasn’t serious about returning to Karl Münchinger. Guglielmo doesn’t need any noises off to make his recording of La Tempesta di Mare so descriptive. In fact, the extraneous aspects of the new Alpha recording have the opposite effect, by making the listener concentrate on non-musical aspects. Oddly enough, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Giovanni Antonini take exactly the same time, to the second, as Guglielmo.

Performers don’t always make enough of the pictorial aspects of Vivaldi’s music – the barking dog in the Spring concerto, for example – but there’s no need to push them over the top. You may recall that Nigel Kennedy made a recording of The Four Seasons on which he thought it fun to add all kinds of extraneous noises. I hated it – review – but I believe it sold very well.

The rest of the concerto comes over well, at a sprightly but not over-fast pace, but all hell breaks loose again in the next track entitled Lazzo parlante. The lazzo was the stereotype clown of the commedia dell’arte, but what he has to ‘say’ here is beyond my understanding, even after reading the notes. Mercifully, the animal noises last less than a minute.

But then we come to the first of the modern works which supposedly relate to Vivaldi. Aurelio Cattaneo’s work is entitled Estroso, eccentric, capricious, and, though it’s certainly that, and it employs instruments typical of the baroque era, including Antonini on the flauto dolce and Riccardo Doni on the harpsichord, its ethos is quite different from that of Vivaldi, just as Turner’s painting of a steamer in a snowstorm, used in the booklet presumably to illustrate the Vivaldi, belongs to a different ethos.  If only the new music related as clearly to Vivaldi as the cover picture, a human-like still life in a clearly modern style, does to its inspiration in the paintings of Arcimboldo.

I’m certainly not against looking at old music in a new light, but it has to be the right old music and an illuminating new light. The evening before writing this review, I was enthralled to see and hear Anoushka Shankar reinterpret her father’s music with the aid of modern technology – pedals to set the rhythm instead of the tabla, and an electronic collaborator working alongside her in place of the tanpura. The result was totally convincing because her performance was true to the spirit of the music of her father and mentor, and because Indian music lends itself to extemporisation.

Vivaldi built in a degree of latitude – allowing the oboe in place of the violin in Op.8, for example, an alternative used in two of the concertos on the Brilliant Classics recording – but nothing like as great as is taken here.

I’ll sit back now and wait for this new Alpha recording to receive the highest accolade somewhere, but it’s not for me any more than Kopatchinskaja’s recent recording entitled Time and Eternity, on which excellent performances of Hartmann’s Violin Concerto and the Martin Polyptyque are included as part of an ill-thought and undigested mess (Alpha 545 – Autumn 2019/1). Then, I note, BBC Music Magazine awarded the full five stars and, though Michael Cookson shared some of my reservations about the programming, he thought it mainly ‘an honourable and fascinating album’ – review.

I’m most reluctant to condemn any recording utterly, though I see very little point in a recent recording of Paul Henry’s assemblage of bits and pieces of Beethoven concertos and passing it off as ‘Symphonie X’ (Alpha 630: review pending). That casts no light on Beethoven for me. Similarly, I fear, neither the opening movement of La Tempesta di Mare nor the contemporary music here enlightens me on any aspect of Vivaldi.

I’d like, however, to salvage the four remaining Vivaldi concertos from the general wreckage. In particular, I enjoyed that of RV208, Il grosso Mogul. There are other fine recordings of this concerto, from La Serenissima and Adrian Chandler, for instance, on Avie AV2287 – review – but this work seems especially to suit Kopatchinskaja’s formidable technique, retaining Vivaldi’s own cadenzas, and Il Giardino Armonico and Antonini give her the kind of support that we have come to expect of them in some fine Vivaldi recordings. I said that Vivaldi, in the right hands, speaks for himself – and that’s true here. As with the Hartmann and Martin on that earlier album, the best parts of this new recording are very worthwhile.

The recording is good – too good in places, revealing sounds I sometimes didn’t want to hear. Nor did the notes in the booklet help me to understand the performances. I’m left at a loss to sum up this very mixed bag; it’s well worth having for four of the five Vivaldi concertos, but the rest is not for me.

Brian Wilson

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