Gli incogniti (The Unknown Ones) directed by violinist, Amandine Beyer, were founded in 2006. This release from Harmonia Mundi is their ninth CD; of the performers who regularly work in and/or with the group it includes Beyer, Alba Roca, Yoko Kawabuko, Olivier Fourés, violins; Marta Páramo, viola; Marco Ceccato, cello; Baldomero Barciela, violone; Francesco Romano, theorbo; Anna Fontana, harpsichord and organ. Although the substance is there in every way in which it needs to be, the demeanor and presentation of Gli incogniti is somewhat playful… certainly lively, extrovert.
So they've chosen to collect 11 violin concerti by Vivaldi (three in (partial) reconstruction by (Beyer and) Fourés (RVs 316, 322, 700) which specifically demonstrate Vivaldi's employment of those qualities that were satirized in 1720 by Benedetto Marcello (1686 – 1739) in his famous pamphlet, "Il teatro alla moda". The latter criticized what Marcello saw as the excesses of "new-fangled" Venetian opera with its cadenzas, variations, "divismo", virtuosity, popular dances, and music imitative of nature etc.
We know – or at least suspect with some certainty – that Vivaldi felt confident and creative enough to care not a fig about such sideswipes ("Il teatro alla moda" ("Fashionable Theater") was published at the height of the Venetian Carnival of that year and so made the greatest impact on the social and artistic life of the Republic. But Vivaldi's music – not written specifically in response to the pamphlet, of course – takes no prisoners and goes its own way regardless. It's this spirit that is captured successfully by Gli incogniti on this CD.
It would have been a mistake for serious musicians to have attempted to compile a "concept album" of Vivaldi's often overtly pyrotechnical contrariness, though. Here are serious, accomplished and perceptive performances of some of his most beautiful and original writing for violin and strings. Yes, there are extraordinary moments, such as the ethereal high solo trill towards the end of the third movement allegro of the D Major, RV 228 [tr.12].
But such passages do no more than convince us of the probity and purely musical credentials of these gifted players. And perhaps encourage us potentially to extend to them latitude in approach. This is never abused. Here is thorough, insightful Vivaldi with all his sparkle, exuberance and light. Rhythms are respected as closely as the composer's signature driving through keys to aid in our appreciation of his sense of musical architecture are underplayed; listen to the end of the G minor, RV 323, allegro [tr.16], for instance. Such moments also offer fine opportunities for convincing ensemble playing.
There is, too, the full range of emotions (pathos and regret, reticence and sensitivity are as much to the fore in these performances as are punch and glamour. Indeed, anyone new to Vivaldi, or familiar only with his "warhorses" would be likely to gain immediate insight into his profundity and ability to write music of variety and perception. They'd soon see that there is much more to Vivaldi than his standing as an icon of the "Venetian sound". There's also something in the attack and pacing of Gli incogniti that would encourage new listeners to explore this delightfully intricate and satisfying world further.
For those who already appreciate what Vivaldi has to offer, the CD is a treasure from start to finish. Polish vies with spontaneity. Love of Vivaldi's harmonies and textures sits well with humility in methodically exposing the true and underlying depth of the composer's writing. The spuriously spectacular is entirely absent; but nowhere do these interpretations and performances lack insight and self-confidence. Justly deserved confidence that Vivaldi can speak for himself. Yes, the music can seem to fly off the pages of the score. But when it comes from performer to listener, it's entirely satisfying and of enduring and multi-faceted pleasure.
The location of this recording (from 2014) is only stated in the booklet as "Rome". It's perhaps a touch drier than might have been expected; yet this too focuses our attention on the music over the sound. Olivier Fourés' notes explain the rationale for the collection and introduce us to the relationship Vivaldi had with the theater, and explains how theatrical his music actually was; and how Gli incogniti have balanced his virtuosity with the violin (these are concerti, after all) with the rhetorical, the demonstrative and the declamatory. It's a perfect balance (don't miss this CD!
Copyright © 2015, Mark Sealey