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Concerti da Camera Vol. 1

Opus 111 OPS 30-264 [75.21]

Over the last five or so years, the performance of Italian renaissance and baroque music, once the province of musicians based almost anywhere else but Italy (especially Britain, Holland, Germany and Belgium), has finally returned home in tremendous splendour. Not that the finest performances of any music will necessarily come from the homeland of the composer. But in the case of Monteverdi and the later Vivaldi, Opus 111 has done a great service to music lovers by uncovering new Italian choral and chamber groups who perform with a greater panache, sense of style and Mediterranean warmth than their more northern counterparts. Rinaldo Alessandrini's albums of Vivaldi's choral music were, for many, something of a revelation and played a major part in establishing Yolanta Skura's label (now owned by the large French independent, Naïve) as a regular prize winner and worthy to be ranked with the finest of the 'independents'.

Now, as part of Opus 111's 'Tesori del Piemonte' series come L'Astrée, a wonderfully talented group of nine Italian instrumentalists who have embarked on a series of the complete chamber concertos of Vivaldi, many of which are to be found in the National University Library of Turin.

This is over seventy-five minutes of pure joy! Each player is tremendously stylish and with such marvellous sound quality it is easy to pick them all out as individuals and enjoy their virtuosity. In particular, oboist and recorder player Paolo Faldi, flautist Ubaldo Rosso, bassoonist Aligi Voltan and harpsichordist Giorgo Tabacco provide a range of colour and whip-crack precision to delight the most jaded ear. Not that L'Astrée fail to gel as an ensemble, indeed their tutti passages are often almost orchestral in impact and dynamic as in, for example, the well placed final work on the CD the Concerto RV 107. The politeness often found in other performances is avoided most assiduously.

There are nine Concertos on this CD, the best known of which are the 'Goldfinch' RV 90 (brilliantly mimicked) and La Pastorella RV 95. The Concerto RV 101, although less well known, is particularly successful with what feels like spot-on rubato in the first movement and the baroque guitar-led last movement providing real excitement. The Concerto RV 90 has a particularly fine slow movement. Essentially a trio for recorder, guitar and bassoon, this example of Vivaldi's 'walking pace' style is one of his very best - the music takes the listener on a journey through unexpected key changes and ingenious changes of direction. As if, devilishly, to blow away this engaging experience for the listener, Vivaldi then provides a final movement of sheer brio.

For lovers of The Four Seasons who have yet to explore more from this ever-fascinating composer, this CD would be an ideal next step (and the Four Seasons are not really that far away; an alternative version of a movement from 'Winter' appears in RV 94). If you are more case-hardened you are in for something of a pleasant surprise. Essential Vivaldi.

Simon Foster



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