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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerti per violino X ‘Intorno a Pisendel’
Concerto in G Major, RV 314
Concerto in D Major, RV 226
Concerto in E-flat Major, RV 369
Concerto in D minor, RV 237
Concerto in D Major, RV 225
Concerto in A Major, RV 340
Le Concert de la Loge/Julien Chauvin (violin)
rec. 2021 at the Musée Jean Lurçat, Angers, France
Vivaldi Edition Volume 69
NAÏVE OP7546 [61]

In 1930 the Biblioteca nazionale universitaria (Italian National University Library) in Turin was able to purchase autograph manuscripts of 450 works by Vivaldi. Many of them were the only copies of music which would otherwise never have been heard. As recently as 2000 the Italian musicologist Alberto Basso conceived and launched on the Paris-based Naïve label the Vivaldi Edition based extensively on the Turin manuscripts, which turned out to consist largely of Vivaldi’s personal collection of his own works. This ambitious, comprehensive, successful and - above all - musically outstanding project is one of the twenty-first century’s most spectacular recording enterprises. It’s now approaching its 70th volume - out of a projected one hundred plus.

Volume 69 celebrates music associated with the extended visit to Vivaldi’s Venice which the Crown Prince of Saxony, Friedrich August, and King Augustus III of Poland made between 1716 and 1717. They took with them musicians from Dresden and - while there - recruited Venetian players. One outcome in the years following their visit was the increasing uptake of Italian music in Germany and its northern neighbours like Poland.

Among those Dresden musicians was the brilliant violinist Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755). It is around (intorno in Italian) Pisendel’s meeting with Vivaldi at that time that this enticing CD has been built. Six beautiful, expressive, virtuosic yet restrained violin concerti were composed - some at the time of the visit. Others afterwards.

They represent a significant moment for Italian and northern European Baroque music. Indeed RV 237, 314 and 340 were composed specifically for - and are dedicated to - Pisendel, who was (already) known as Germany’s pre-eminent violinist. Both Albinoni and Telemann wrote for Pisendel as well. It has even been speculated that Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-1006) may have been composed for Pisendel.

From the first few phrases of the G Major (RV 314 [tr.1]) it is obvious that Chauvin’s approach is fresh and reflects the generous originality with which Vivaldi should be credited - despite, perhaps, some… overexposure. There are pauses and moments of poised rubato to accentuate the structure of the concerti. The chromaticism which gives Vivaldi’s string and ensemble writing its bite and colour (a ‘fruitiness’, almost) is present but never overdone.

The pace and tempi at which Le Concert de la Loge under the 43-year-old Chauvin (who specialises in period instrument interpretation) take the concerti add unassumingly to the excitement without ever trivialising Vivaldi’s sense of urgency and desire almost to ‘press’ the music onto its listeners with open hands and a quick wink.

Not a second or semi-quaver of intricacy in, say, the arpeggio and ostinato passages at 1’15” of that same concerto’s third, allegro movement [tr.3] is lost, blurred or ‘approximated’. But - significantly - neither is the virtuosic writing given undue light. We merely marvel at Vivaldi’s inventiveness. It truly is like the sun lighting the sparkling Mediterranean to the south of Piazza San Marco… Vivaldi was not to leave Venice for another dozen years or so after this Dresden visit.

All possible danger from too sharp a focus on the intricacies of Vivaldi’s writing which could lead to fragmentation is avoided - especially with the emphases called for in the contrasts of the concerto form. Chauvin clearly has a well thought-out sense of the music’s structure. The movements remain parts of the wholes. The evolution of allegro-largo-allegro (where the middle movement [tr.5] could so easily have relaxed, ‘lapsed’ even) is typical of the tight playing throughout the CD.

Yet their superb musicianship allows Vivaldi’s senses of force and drive to breathe; it allows the music actually to express a variety of emotions… as is the case, for instance, with the sadness, wistfulness, regret and pathos three minutes or so into the allegro ma poco of the E-flat Major (RV 369) [tr. 7] - the longest work on this CD.

Then in the largo [tr.8], where dolefulness is more likely, the reduced forces of Le Concert de la Loge employ restraint without maudlin. Yet not as though we were waiting for a jolly sum-it-all-up movement to cap the emotional finale. Instead, the playing in the allegro remains measured without reaching for rhetoric or punchiness, flashy embellishment or spectacle.

One would like to think that players in Vivaldi’s circle 300 years ago would have played like this - as if the turns and revelations of the composer’s writing were as natural as living on the water. And to think that this is how Pisendel and his professional colleagues endeared themselves to Vivaldi then - as they obviously did - specifically because they understood Vivaldi’s idiom as well as this.

These are also performances for the twenty-first century: listen to the opening of the D minor (RV 237) concerto’s allegro movement [tr.10]: it’s snappy and full of pep. But without any kind of artificial emphasis on the richness of Vivaldi’s orchestration. Still less on the prominence of Chauvin’s solo violin. Balance is prized. As is a gentle detachment making sure that we never feel we are being persuaded of anything. Vivaldi is speaking for himself.

No single movement is longer than four and three quarter minutes, no concerto exceeds 12 minutes. But it’s the sense of momentum - without spurious inevitability - that leaves us wanting more. Which we do. Although the works might have been arranged in such a way that the somewhat abrupt ending to the A Major concerto (RV 340) didn’t actually end the whole experience.

The playing on this outstanding CD captures Vivaldi’s ability to express so much in so little time. Never hurried or compressed. Chauvin and Le Concert de la Loge strike just the right sense of direction; they bring out the contours of the music fully in parallel with its colour. For example, the second movement largo of the D Major (RV 225) [tr.14] could so easily droop, beginning with a variety of falling motifs. Instead, Chauvin has his musicians stand back, almost, as they seem to be exploring Vivaldi’s inventive wistfulness for the first time. Rather, it has animation without unnecessary gesture.

When Vivaldi intends wit (as in the opening allegro of the A Major (RV340) [tr.16], for instance), these performances don’t let wit run away with them. Balance again. If there is poignancy alongside the humour, these accounts find it and gently offer it to us with unselfconscious technique. Vivaldi’s twists and turns, his references to what has just come before and new tonalities and/or dynamics - Chauvin shows us - are all there for a reason. Compelling music-making indeed.

The acoustic is that of the Musée Jean Lurçat, which is devoted to contemporary tapestry, in Angers (Maine-et-Loire) not far from Nantes - about 300 kilometres southwest of Paris. It turns out to be a suitable acoustic for this music in that it emphasises neither intimacy nor resonance. If anything, the music does sound somewhat enclosed until you get used it. One thinks of Venice as boasting stone and marble spaces. Here the emphasis is squarely on the instruments, appropriately foregrounding the soloist when the violin must shine; and of calmly wider scope, too, when Vivaldi pulls up short with plucked sounds. Nothing, though, is ever artificially gilded.

The booklet that comes with the single CD describes the Edition, as usual, gives brief background to the Pisendel visit, concentrates on the (compositional) sequence of the concerti and offers a short bio of Chauvin and the Concert de la Loge (which he founded in 2015) with photos and a track listing in French, English, Italian and German, as well as recording and technical details.

This CD is well up to naïve’s usual high standards for the Vivaldi Edition. If you’re (already) collecting releases from this remarkable project, you’ll want to add this single CD with its six violin concerti without a moment’s hesitation. If you’re still exploring, although this might not be an obvious place to start, the panache, honesty and perception with which the ensemble under its inspired violinist-director, Julien Chauvin, conveys the vitality and beauty of Vivaldi’s (string) writing is surely likely to have you wanting to seek out more.
Mark Sealey

Published: October 25, 2022

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