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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in F major RV584 for two violins and two organs [6:20]
Concerto in D minor for violin, organ and strings RV541 [8:09]
Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in G, Op. 7/8, RV 299
(transcribed for organ by J. S. Bach, BWV 973) [8:23]
Concerto in F major for violin, organ and strings RV542 [12:13]
Concerto, Op. 3 No. 12 ‘Con Violino Solo obligato’, RV 265
(transcribed in C major for organ by J. S. Bach, BWV 976) [11:39]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10 No. 2 in G minor, RV 439 ‘La notte’
(transcribed in D minor for two organs by Edoardo Maria Bellotti) [11:07]
Margherita Gianola and Silvio Celeghin (organs)
Accademia di San Rocco/Francesco Fanna
rec. 15-18 October 2012, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice
STRADIVARIUS STR 33951 [57:48]

There are comparatively few concertos by Vivaldi in which the organ has a solo or concertante role, and as the booklet notes for this release point out keyboards were often seen as having more of a continuo function, so this shortage of repertoire is in line with most Italian composers of his period.
 
This recording is the result of collaboration between organists Margherita Gianola and Silvio Celeghin, together with Francesco Fanna, conductor and director at the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, in which large part of Vivaldi’s manuscripts and scores are archived. The recording uses two the 18th century organs in the Basilica dei Frari in Venice. These are highly suited for performances of Vivaldi’s music, the elder of the two built by Giovan Battista Piaggia from 1732 being the only organ in Venice to have been made while Vivaldi was still alive. The other instrument is from 1796 and by Gaetano Callido, and both instruments sound gorgeously light and airy, their sound entirely suited to a combination with a small group of strings with some added lute thrumming to enhance the harmonies.
 
This combination of less familiar music and familiar music in novel guises is appealing, and with the rich acoustic of the venue and its venerable instruments this disc does have a great deal going for it. I do have one or two caveats however. The two organs are superbly tuned together and their sound blends nicely - almost too nicely in fact, and with a recording which superimposes the two instruments rather than defining them with some kind of left/right stereo separation it is hard to tell them apart, or even indeed that there are two organs playing at once at all, as in the transcription of the Flute Concerto, Op. 10 No. 2 in G minor, RV 439 ‘La notte’. This works nicely enough in musical terms, but even the echo effects are lost to a great extent. You would expect at least a little audio excitement from two organs set presumably at some distance from each other, but here they sit resolutely on top of one another.
 
My other caveat is in the solo violins. The Accademia di San Rocco is a fine band, and the opening of the first piece, the Concerto in F major RV584 is a real ‘aaah’ moment. Just when you think you’ve found another real gem of a recording the solo duet comes in at around 1:55 and you begin to think, ‘aaah, maybe not quite such a hit after all.’ Minor intonation issues against these violins against the organs are an occasional gripe, but as we get into the third minute it becomes ever clearer that the solo strings are going to be the weakest link in some otherwise very fine performances. The playing isn’t desperately awful, just not quite as strong and ‘with-it’ as the rest.
 
The result of this for me is that I spent at least some of the time with the other concertos listening out for lesser moments, which isn’t really how you want to be appreciating music. I’m sure there are plenty of issues with synchronising soloists at a no doubt appreciable distance between players, so this might account for some of the more cautious sounding moments. In fact, Luca Mares, who takes the single solos along with the organ in RV 541 and 542 does pretty well, although I’m not sure leaning on the last note of a phrase every time is such a good idea, and each time I go back to find more charitable things to say I’m dissuaded by what my ears are telling me.
 
Despite the lack of 100% violinistic élan this is a recording which has plenty of fine moments, and Vivaldi’s music is always entertaining. The character and sonority of the organs is well captured, and there is plenty of contrast in the programme between the solo organ transcriptions and pieces with strings. There is an argument for having had the other two organ and strings concerti RV 766 and 767, but perhaps the team will re-unite for a second volume. The booklet notes are usefully comprehensive on both the organs and the music. If the repertoire intrigues you the recordings will reward, for the most part.
 
Dominy Clements  

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