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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Complete Cello Concertos

CD1 [53.53]
1. RV 405 in D Minor; 2. 401 in C Minor; 3 RV 423in B-Flat; 4.RV 399 in C; 5. Cello and Bassoon RV 409 in E Minor; 6. Movement for Cello, RV 538 in D Minor.
CD2 [73.25]
1. RV 403 in D; 2 RV 424in B Minor; 3. RV 422 in A Minor; 4. RV 402 in C Minor; 5. RV 412 in F; 6.RV 414 in G; 7.RV 414 in G; 8 RV 406 in D Minor.
CD3 [59:02]
1. RV 411 in F; 2. RV 404 in D; 3.RV 420 in A Minor; 4.RV 407 in D Minor; 5.RV 417 in G Minor; 6. for violin, cello and orchestra; RV 544 in F
CD4 [62.43]
1. RV 418 in A Minor; 2 RV 408 in E Flat; 3. RV 416 in G Minor; 4. RV 419 in A Minor; 5. RV 413 in G; 6. for violin, cello and orchestra; RV 547 in B Flat
Ofra Harnoy, cello
Toronto Chamber Orchestra
James McKay, bassoon (CD1, tr. 13-15); Igor Oistrakh, violin (CD3, tr. 16-18; CD4 tr. 16-18); Robert Dodson, cello continuo (CD1 and CD2); Mihai Tetel, cello continuo (CD3 and CD4); Elizabeth Keenan, harpsichord (CD1, CD4 tr.1-15); Valerie Weeks harpsichord/organ (CD2+CD3+CD4 tr. 16-18); Paul Robinson, conductor (CD1-3 and CD4 tr. 16-18); Richard Stamp, conductor (CD4 tr. 1-15)
rec. CD1. April 6-7 1987, St. Timothy Church, Toronto; CD2. May 15, 26 1989, St Timothy Church, Toronto; CD3. Feb. 6, 1992, St Timothy Church, Toronto, July 24-26 1992, St George Church, Toronto; CD4. Feb. 4-6, 1994, St Martin in the Fields Church, Toronto; Feb. 6, 1992, St. Timothy Church, Toronto (RV 547)
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876678862 [53:53 + 73:25 + 59:02 + 62:43]

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Vivaldi is greatly over-rated - a dull fellow who would compose the same form over many times. Such is the opinion of one of the great composers on the music of another great composer. Given the evidence of the present newly re-released complete Vivaldi cello concertos incredulity can be the only response to this assessment. But then Stravinsky was a man who voiced strong, often acerbic and sometimes outrageous opinions on virtually anything suggested to him. He had probably heard few, if any, of these cello concertos and irrespective would it have made any difference?

Antonio Vivaldi, "prete rosso", the red priest - probably so named because of his red hair - was a prolific composer. Included in his prodigious output are some 200 concertos for violin and 40 for oboe. Given that circa.1700 the cello was seldom used a solo instrument, the 27 cello concertos that he composed may seem diminutive by comparison. However within the circumstances, it is about what one would anticipate.

In Sept 1703, six months after being ordained a priest, and at age 25, Vivaldi joined the teaching staff of "Ospedale della Pieta" in Venice. This establishment was, in essence, a church for orphan girls with an eminent music school. In 1736 this institution was home to an extraordinary 1,000 girls - a consequence of protracted wars between Venice and its neighbours, especially the Turks.

Through the excellent orchestra and outstanding singers, the Pieta’s pupils were able to augment the State’s financing by holding regular Sunday concerts. It is probably for these pupils that Vivaldi wrote his cello concertos.

Relatively speaking these concertos are short works, on average about ten minutes long; RV 411 is only 7 minutes in length. Most are so rarely performed as to be all but unknown, which is lamentable given their beauty and consistency of invention. For those who may not be aware, "RV" refers to the catalogue of Vivaldi’s works – Ryom Verzeichnis - compiled by the Danish musicologist Peter Ryom.

This boxed set of four discs, at bargain price, presents the complete concertos by Vivaldi with cellist Ofra Harnoy and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Robinson/Richard Stamp. Commencing in 1987/88 this set was originally released as a series of four discrete discs.

While the "outer" box highlights the inclusion of a 35-page booklet in English, German and French in reality, track listings aside, the booklet comprises six pages repeated three times in the respective languages. In line with good marketing practice and the spirit of "authentic" performance, the glamorous photographs of Ms. Harnoy are twenty years old

Ofra Harnoy, born in Israel in 1965, moved to Canada at the age of six with her family. She attended classes with Fournier, Du Pré, and Rostropovich. Her list of wins in major competitions is very impressive. She gained international fame and respect as an outstanding cellist, but at the height of her career withdrew in the early 1990s to raise a family.

The Toronto Chamber Orchestra is an ad hoc group assembled by the conductor Paul Robinson for the occasion.

This is wonderfully inventive music, which reflects the creative genius of its composer. Contrary to Stravinsky’s comments, the structure is highly varied. It is interesting to compare the infectious good-humoured opening of the B flat concerto RV 423 with the C minor RV 401 and its feeling of lamentation and contrapuntal texture. The solo cello part of the C major concerto RV 399 is so very different to the solo parts of all the other concertos.

Vivaldi must have had in mind a particularly virtuosic student when he wrote the demanding passages in the final movement of the D minor concerto RV 405. In the concerto for cello and bassoon, RV 409, the first movement alternates soft sustained passages for the soloist with fast outbursts for the orchestra. Then in the second movement Vivaldi reverses the roles; only in the final movement do the soloist and orchestra play in the same mood.

For those who like to read "the last chapter first", titillate your aural senses by first listening to the following tracks from disc three [5, 6, 7, 11]. These are predominantly slow movements and like those of Mozart and Haydn have a beauty that words fail to convey.

The playing by Ofra Harnoy is very musical and evinces beautiful intonation. It is difficult to restrain one’s foot from tapping, a sure sign that good things are happening in the music.

The consecutive review of twenty-five concertos [249:03] is quite a marathon undertaking and is probably better executed in four separate sessions. On this occasion, such is the quality of the music and its execution, temptation to progress to the next disc is irresistible.

Given the number of re-issues, anthologies, and "best-of" collections one could be a little cynical and interpret this re-release initiative as nothing more than a marketing ploy. On the contrary the dearth of Vivaldi cello concerto recordings, particularly as a definitive set makes this new set a real "void filler". The music presented here has been neglected and ignored for far too long.

In comparison to many modern recordings the overall sound on these four discs is sonically a little "flat" They do however exhibit excellent left-right channel balance - a virtue often not shared with modern counterparts.

This set is enthusiastically recommended for what it is - a record of marvellously inventive music, beautifully played by a superb cellist. It is guaranteed to provide hours of fulfilling musical experience.

Zane Turner

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