With Vivaldi, we are always discovering how little we know; how ridiculous it is that the popular mind associates him with nothing more than The Four Seasons. An academic library in Turin houses hundreds of the composer's manuscripts, many of them unpublished and unknown. The Instituto per i Beni Musicali in Piemonte (Italy) and Opus 111 are collaborating to record all of these scores. This is Volume 20 of a worthwhile project, and one that is likely to continue for some time!
These discs are handsomely annotated and packaged. With a sense of style to rival the Versace family, Opus 111 has graced the cover of each release with the striking face of a different model. Most, if not all, have been female up until now. With this release, a young man worthy of Caravaggio appears on the cover, holding a magpie (which I fear may be stuffed).
The average Vivaldi concerto is ten minutes long. These, however, are concertos for string orchestra. Although they also are in three movements (fast – slow – fast), they are about half the length. Frédéric Delaméa's booklet note divides these 59 concertos – 12 are presented here – into four types. First are the concertos in a minor key, "of severe cut," with chromatic middle movements and fugal finales. Second are the concertos seemingly intended for didactic purposes, probably for the orchestra at the Pietà, the orphanage for girls where Vivaldi was installed in Venice. Third are concertos which share themes with Vivaldi's vocal works. (Don't forget that self-borrowing was highly usual in the Baroque Era, and not at all frowned upon.) Last are the atypical works that don't fall into any of these categories! Needless to say, these distinctions are somewhat arbitrary.
Vivadi's fecundity amazes me. Most of his music is not difficult to hear, but that's not to say it all sounds the same, as has been tiresomely repeated over and over again. There's a little cosmos in each one of these five-minute concertos. Joy, contentment, anger, and melancholy are combined and recombined across the bar-lines. Yet within Vivaldi's variety, there is tremendous consistency. Even when he had but a single idea to convey, he conveyed it with imagination, professionalism, and an unmistakable love for his craft. These little morsels of Vivaldi are a find, and this is one of the more interesting new Vivaldi discs to appear in some time.
Alessandrini founded Concerto Italiano in 1984, and since that time it has won many awards, including the Gramophone Award on three occasions. This is an "authentic instruments" ensemble; the personnel on this CD are eight violinists (two designated as principals), two violists, two cellists (one designated as principal), a double bassist, theorbo or guitar, and a harpsichord continuo – the latter played by Alessandrini himself. The performances are as lean and frisky as a greyhound liberated from the racetrack, yet the middle movements sing in an inimitably Italianate manner. In short, one could hardly ask for a listening experience as painless – yet not facile! – as this one is. Fine engineering, too.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle