If you don't know this repertoire – the seven bassoon concerti of Vivaldi – try to imagine how the "magical" Vivaldi (to use the word from the title of a short interview with Sergio Azzolini in the nicely-produced booklet that comes with this CD) would set about writing them. Think, perhaps, of his flute concerti; or those for oboe. Think of jaunty little tunes and figurative string accompaniment deftly trying to combine winding melodies with each of the characteristics of what for us is a somewhat sidelined solo instrument. Think again. Somehow Vivaldi manages to pull something new out of the hat every time. Yes, there are imaginative melodies. But there are also: contrast between woodwind and strings, surprises, poignancy, delicacy and transparency – for all the bassoon's earthiness. Listen to the daintiness of the largo of RV503 [tr.14], for example. Vivaldi seems both to be holding back and baring all at the same time. Extremely subtle.
Significantly, Sergio Azzolini easily surpasses all the technical as well as interpretative challenges (for this is substantial music) which Vivaldi presents. He is particularly adept at bringing out its shades of dynamic; he plays passages now with gusto, now with reserve. He also makes a very rounded and enjoyable sound. And is supported admirably by L'Aura Soava Cremona under their artistic director, Diego Cantalupi, in this, Volume 45 of naîve outstanding and extremely enterprising Vivaldi Edition. The critical edition of these works is also that of Cantalupi.
It's hardly a compliment to identify Vivaldi as the most prolific and significant composer of bassoon concerti: there is little competition. Even if there were, the sheer variety and inventiveness (which are amply displayed here) of these intriguing and persuasive compositions would delight. And what these players have managed to do is sweep away (or ignore in the first place) any preconceptions about the genre and style which Vivaldi could have been expected to use. And to deny any impetus to play up the particularities of the relationship between the instrument and its supporting orchestra. Rather to allow such qualities as sophistication, mellowness, grace and a sinuous expressivity to come to the fore through Vivaldi's writing; not through the instrument's own sound as such. That is just what was needed for this set of recordings.
The Franco-German bassoon with its three (later four) keys was just developing and taking over from the dulcian as Vivaldi's career was progressing. These concerti all date from the late 1720s to his death in 1741; perhaps because the bassoon was well-established by then. So that these are all compositions from his mature style is probably no co-incidence. Yet it's true that Vivaldi tended to favor the instruments with richer, deeper sounds – like the cello, too. But, again, the textures he creates – and which these 15 or so players so successfully work with – are in the service of some very beautiful melodic and harmonic inventions. The Allegro poco of RV 484 [tr.19], for example, is almost Mozartian in its poignancy and clarity of emotion.
So for variety, perception, and for the conveying of depth and emotions ranging from passion to passivity this is a CD that has a lot to recommend it. There are other collections of the repertoire. Some of them very good. If you're collecting the Vivaldi Edition, though, and want to stay with it until its projected completion in 2015, with this sensitive and undemonstrative set of performances which bring out the very essence of Vivaldi's love for the concerto form in general and for this commander among wind instruments in particular, you can't go wrong. The acoustic is clear and enhances the music. The attack of players and soloist and their consequent tempi are appropriate; they temper briskness with awareness that it's our emotions (not theirs) to which Vivaldi was appealing. Recommended.
Copyright © 2010, Mark Sealey.