Those who waggishly aver that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto five hundred times will find that they don't have a leg to stand on after hearing this CD. Here's a reasonable step forward for the Vivaldi neophyte, after he or she has become familiar with "The Four Seasons" – bracingly recorded by Biondi, by the way, as part of Virgin Veritas 545465-2.
The most familiar work here is probably the Mandolin Concerto in C. François Truffaut used this music in his film The Bride Wore Black to accompany the triumphs of the vengeful Jeanne Moreau. Nothing else on this CD is quite as delicate; hearing this music, one holds one's breath, as if afraid of disturbing a spider's web. The other mandolin concerto is actually a concerto for two mandolins. It seems that both of these works probably were written for the Ospedale della Pietà, the girls' school where Vivaldi taught.
The other five concertos offered here require more solo instruments; RV 555 needs as many as seventeen, and so it is hard to conceive of it as a concerto in the traditional sense; it's more like a series of "star turns." (As the girls of the Ospedale played while hidden from the audience's view, it has been suggested that the more talented among them sometimes would play more than one instrument.) Throughout, Vivaldi's writing seems to indicate his delight in writing for so many skilled players, and in being able to make such a rich sound. Indeed, at times the sonorities heard in these concertos approach Handelian proportions.
Europa Galante does not shy away from such grandeur, and Biondi plays and conducts Vivaldi in an athletic, almost aggressive style. He leaps on opportunities to create contrast with a missionary zeal. Infrequently, this can be fatiguing, but Biondi's melting slow movements are hard to resist. The performances on this CD have been polished, but not allowed to become slick – anything but. Europa Galante rolls up its collective sleeves and stirs the dirt in Vivaldi's fertile soil. It is fun to hear the period instrumentalists of this ensemble gathering like pigeons in St. Mark's Square to realize several of the composer's more thickly-scored inspirations.
The recording was made in Parma. An ideally "live" venue casts its own gentle, warm shadow around Vivaldi's rich music.
In short, this is a thoroughly enjoyable Vivaldi CD – free of false solemnity and unafraid to give the musicians the opportunity to display their golden virtuosity.
Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle