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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerti E Cantate Da Camera III

Concerto in C RV87 [08:10], Cantata Amor, hai vinto RV683* [13:27], Concerto in F RV98 – "tempesta di mare" [05:41], Cantata Lungi dal vago volto RV680* [14:07], Concerto in G minor RV103 [08:53], Cantata Vengo a voi, luci adorate RV682* [10:14]
Laura Polverelli (mezzo-soprano)*,
L’Astrée/Giorgio Tabacco
Recorded July and August 2000 (concertos), November 2003 (cantatas), in the Istituto di Musica Antica Academia Montis Regalis, Mondovi, Italy
NAÏVE OP 30381 [60:26]

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The project to record all of the 450-odd works by Vivaldi held by the National University Library of Turin proceeds apace. It only seems yesterday that I was reviewing the opera "Orlando Furioso". For that set a very radical band of period performers was chosen, the Ensemble Matheus. L’Astrée – a Turin group in spite of its French name – are less radical in the sense that they don’t make their instruments rasp and bite, but I would say no less imaginative. With the help of a really lifelike recording – the instruments truly seemed to be in my listening room – the music just leaps off the page. The quicker movements all dance, where older and heavier bands were apt to make them slog, while in the dialogues between instruments the phrases really answer each other. In slow movements, on the other hand, the music is made to speak. Once again, it is notable – especially in the Largo of RV87 – how much more romantic this music sounds played with freedom by a small original instruments group than it ever did with larger bands who were trying to put on baroque manners.

RV103 is treated as a straightforward trio, without a keyboard continuo added, and it sounds fascinating, not least because the bassoonist really relishes the sound of his instrument. Il Giardino Armonico, another Italian original instruments group, in a Brilliant box, take the Largo of this concerto more slowly and gravely, with the bassoon playing delicately in the background (they also opt for no keyboard continuo) [review]. I enjoyed it both ways, but in the outer movements the new recording wins, for Il Giardino Armonico are just too fast to make the music dance. In the Largo of "Il tempesta di mare" there are further passages where the bassoon is left on its own as a continuo instrument with the flute, suggestive, in this context, of a duet between a mermaid and a foghorn.

In the three cantatas, Laura Polverelli has a splendidly rich timbre, so much so that I almost took her for a contralto; but later Vivaldi sends her up to heights we don’t ask of contraltos and she ascends them with ease. Her lower notes are so splendidly rich that I wish there had been more of them. She is a musical, dedicated singer who has clearly thought about the words, her agilità and intonation are unfailingly accurate, but there is one aspect of her style which some listeners may not care for. In the big upward leaps, she joins the notes with something which I would call, not so much a portamento or even a slide, as a whoop. To tell the truth, Italian singers have never been very convinced by the ultra-clean style preferred by English or German baroque specialists, and I am not suggesting that Polverelli whoops because she doesn’t know any better; obviously she feels that it is a price worth paying for a less ascetic, more warmly human approach. If you are not sure whether you agree, try the beginning of tracks 18 and 20 – for some reason the third cantata recorded here is particularly affected. For myself, I rejoice in the sheer life of all these performances, while just wishing (a little bit) that she might whoop a spot less. And oh, I nearly forgot: the music is all magnificent, Vivaldi at his richest.

Christopher Howell


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