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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Violin Concertos - Vol. 2
CD 1
Concerto in D major RV 223
Concerto in A major RV 349
Concerto in D minor RV 248
Concerto in D major RV 229
Concerto in A major RV 343
Concerto in E major RV 267
CD 2
Concerto in A major RV 763 “L’Ottavina”
Concerto in F major RV 286
Concerto in E-flat major RV 261
Concerto in E-flat major RV 366
Concerto in E-flat major RV 260
Concerto in B minor RV 387
CD 3
Concerto in C major RV 189
Concerto in G minor RV 321
Concerto in D minor RV 241
Concerto in G minor RV 329
Concerto in C minor RV 197
Concerto in D major RV 215
CD 4
Concerto No.1, op.6, RV 324
Concerto No.2, op.6, RV 259
Concerto No.3, op.6, RV 318
Concerto No.4, op.6, RV 216
Concerto No.5, op.6, RV 280
Concerto No.6, op.6, RV 239
Coucou, RV 335
CD 5
Concerto No.1, op.11, RV 207
Concerto No.2, op.11, RV 277
Concerto No.3, op.11, RV 336
Concerto No.4, op.11, RV 308
Concerto No.5, op.11, RV 202
Riposo, RV 270
Shlomo Mintz (violin; conductor)
Israel Chamber Orchestra
rec. Eglise Du Liban, Paris, August 1992, March 1993
Original release 1992, 1993 MusicMasters Classics
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 2523-7 [5 CDs: 59:15 + 61:45 + 55:52 + 59:03 + 62:17]

Experience Classicsonline

Like receiving a shiny new coin in your change, this is my first with the release year of 2009 printed on the back of the liner; always a nice little marker, even if in this case it’s for a re-release. I reviewed volume 1 of this series a while ago, and enjoyed it enough to have me eager to pounce when volume 2 appeared on the Nimbus catalogue listings. Together, these 10 discs in two volumes re-release those which appeared on the MusicMasters Classics label in the 1990s. They are not a complete collection of all of Vivaldi’s violin concertos, and you won’t find the op. 3 ‘L’estro armonico’, the  Op.4 ‘La Stravaganza’ or the Op.8 ‘Four Seasons’ here, but the surprise for some may be the sheer range of invention and the quality of Vivaldi’s concertos beyond those which are arguably over-exposed.

If Arcangelo Corelli was ‘the father of the violin’ the Vivaldi must at the very least be considered a very prominent uncle. The first two discs of this set are of the twelve concertos Vivaldi wrote for a pupil at the Pio Ospedale dalla Pietà, Anna Maria. Somewhat confusingly, the first few paragraphs booklet notes refer to RV numbers not part of this collection, but no matter. Vivaldi commenced work at the Pietà in 1703, and, while following the Concerto Grosso formula largely set by Corelli and others of the previous generation, certainly provided his employers with top-notch material. The solo parts are technically demanding, without quite the extremes or variety of special effects which some of the later concertos seem to invite, but expressive middle movements such as the alternating Largo and Presto tempi of RV 248 certainly presage Vivaldi’s later work.

The concertos on disc 3 contain more mature pieces. Opening with the well known Concerto in C major RV 189, this is said to be one of the composers own favourites, and is full of transparent textures and skittish runs in both the solo and ripieno or orchestral parts in the first Larghetto- Allegro non molto movement. The gentle Largo which follows is, as with all of these pieces, beautifully played, but I have heard more emotion squeezed out of the music than here. The Concerto in C minor RV 197 is another recognised masterpiece, and Mintz’ solo is given robust support by the strings of the orchestra.

The Op. 6 concertos on disc 4 were created when Vivaldi’s commercial star had already ascended, and the Amsterdam presses were printing his works as a successful money-spinner. These works extend the techniques of the concerto in terms of extremes of range, increased thematic development and virtuosity. There is also a wider variety of texture, with some accompaniments pared down, for instance to just a duet between solo violin and a solo cello in the Grave of Op.6 No.1. Some of the slow movements from this set are as good as anything from this period. The birdsong imitations of the popular Coucou RV 335 are an entertaining extra to round off this disc, and the final Allegro is a particularly rousing number, with some remarkable and unexpected harmonic twists.

The final disc number 5 gives us five of the Op. 11 concertos. These appeared in 1729, at the same time at the trend for grand cycles of concertos in this style was being supplanted by the gallant style of composers such as Locatelli and Tartini, whose first collections were published at the same time as Vivaldi’s Op.11. The somewhat jaded critical comments of the day indicate that Vivaldi’s particular box of tricks was no longer the revolutionary force in music that it had been just a few years before, but with the perspective and objectivity of time we can judge these pieces more in terms of Vivaldi’s later maturity. There is a lightweight feel to the Venetian rhythms of RV 207, but the Op.11 No.2 E minor RV 277 has all the searching power and youthful energy of the earlier concertos, and has some surprise echo effects as well. The absence of the harpsichord in the beautiful Andante is a welcome contrast here, and if you are a fan of the ‘Four Seasons’ then the final Allegro is a real gift. There are plenty of other magical moments and movements, and Mintz and his band capture them all in expert style. The whole set is brought to an enchanting end with Il Riposo, which was written for performance on Christmas night. Muted strings and a feast of intertwining lines, ethereal, elusive harmonies and a subtly restrained solo part end this collection with a flavour to savour.

Shlomo Mintz plays with a pure, full, round, well-projected tone which matches with and sings over the ensemble of the Israel Chamber Orchestra very well indeed. This string band has plenty of bounce, and Mintz brings out sensitivity of phrasing in both the slow central sections and the less overtly expressive outer movements. Rhythm and harmony are both enriched with a well balanced and discreetly played harpsichord to the right of the main body of strings. The acoustic of the Eglise Du Liban is possibly a little on the over-rich side, but it suits the music and doesn’t stand in the way of detail and articulation. Before and since these recordings were made there have of course been many other excellent versions released on CD, and if one compares these with the kind of sound Trevor Pinnock was making with Simon Standage and The English Concert in the 1980s and 90s then you get a great deal more life and grit in the playing, more drama and extremes of contrast. The same goes for later recordings with the likes of Giuliano Carmignola. Mintz and the Israel CO might be considered a more ‘middle of the road’ choice, but if the ‘safer’ textures of modern strings are the kinds of sound you are looking for then you won’t be disappointed with these discs. They are superbly played and recorded, and will stand up as well to close scrutiny as they will to the accompaniment of a glass of nice port and a good book on a peaceful night.
Dominy Clements                            


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