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Vivaldi concertos and cantatas

Concertos RV119, 151, 249, 345
Cantatas RV683, 684

Concerto Italiano / Alessandrini
Sara Mingardo (alto)

Naïve OP30744

Instrumental Vivaldi fans divide into the crude (who believe that the tunefulness and pictorial qualities of the Four Seasons have never been surpassed in the rest of the oeuvre, and otherwise all the concertos sound alike) and the sophisticated, who will be delighted by the variety shown here.

Vivaldi is regarded as an innovator, the first writer of cello concertos and an experimenter with different combinations of solo instruments (including having none). Musically, this disc excellently represents this.

Predictably excellent performances from Alessandrini and his team – tight, but lively ensemble, yet capable of depth, for example in the haunting slow movement to RV119.

The main argument in favour of the ‘crude’ school is that however great Vivaldi’s variety, it is inside a narrow stylistic range. It would, nevertheless, be hard to demonstrate that a comparable body of ‘samey’ music is incontestably great (say Bach’s keyboard suites, his cantatas, or Beethoven’s late quartets) where Vivaldi is not. Is the sense of making a ground-breaking stylistic change less obvious in Vivaldi?

However, for me, Vivaldi is at his best given the added individuality of programmatic illustration (as in the Four Seasons, here represented by RV151, the Alla rustica, from the period in the 1720s when Vivaldi was very interested by programmatic music) or by the contrasting challenge of writing for voice.

The two cantatas here have developed string parts, though, as the notes say, there is no suggestion that the voice is somehow an ersatz instrumental part. Mingardo, an alto, not a mezzo, sings with a combination of creamy tone and period exactitude. RV683, Amor, hai vinto, is especially winning.

Ten years on, the 1997 recording still sounds fresh. As explained below, the full notes are included, not a cut-down re-issue version. So the disc has an unqualified recommendation.

Ying Chang

See other discs reviewed in this batch: Jesuit music written in China and Handel.