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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
La Cetra II - Vol. 2
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 380) [11:27]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in B flat (RV 526) [8:20]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in C (RV 183) [9:15]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (RV 327) [11:40]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in C (RV 171) [10:30]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in A (RV 520) [9:19]
Federico Guglielmo, Carlo Lazari (violin)
L'Arte dell'Arco/Giovanni Guglielmo (violin)
rec. 11-13, 18-20 June 1995, Oratory of S. Nicola, Vicenza, Italy. DDD
DYNAMIC DM8031 [60:33]
6 Concerti a Due Violini
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in a minor (RV 523) [10:36]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in D (RV 513) [15:23]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in G (RV 516) [9:54]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in C (RV 506) [10:54]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in c minor (RV 509) [10:45]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in d (RV 514) [11:31]
Federico Guglielmo, Carlo Lazari (violin)
L'Arte dell'Arco/Giovanni Guglielmo (violin)
rec. January 1996, Villa Cordellina, Altavilla Vicentina, Italy. DDD
DYNAMIC DM8014 [69:03] 

Vivaldi's oeuvre includes two collections of twelve concertos each, which bear the title of La Cetra (the lyre), and were dedicated to the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. The first was printed in 1727 in Amsterdam as his op.9, the second has been preserved in manuscript. The liner-notes say that the concertos in both collections are all different, with the exception of the twelfth, "which is common to both". That concerto is included here and is for two violins, and has the catalogue number RV 520. However, the twelfth concerto from op. 9 has the number RV 391 and is scored for one violin. As the catalogue in the article on Vivaldi in New Grove doesn't include references to the manuscript collection La Cetra I can't solve this mystery.
The first disc to be reviewed here is the second devoted to this unpublished collection. Some of these concertos are incomplete, and these have been replaced here by alternative concertos from Vivaldi's large output. The Concerto in B flat (RV 380) replaces the Concerto RV 360 in the same key. The Concerto in g minor (RV 327) replaces the 8th concerto from the manuscript (RV 320) and the Concerto in C (RV 171) is included as a substitute for the Concerto in D (RV 203).
The Concerto RV 327 is the most virtuosic of them all, a typical Vivaldian showpiece. The other concertos are more moderate in their technical requirements. Some slow movements display strong expression, for instance the largo from RV 171. These aspects are mostly worked out pretty well, but in the fast movements the playing has some rough edges, and the tutti sections are sometimes a little abrasive, even aggressive. The intonation is not always perfect.
This disc also includes two concertos for two violins. These are the two concertos from this manuscript collection so scored. According to the liner-notes by Fabrizio Ammetto to his recording of concertos for two violins by Vivaldi (review) the parts for the first solo violin of both concertos are missing, a fact not mentioned in the liner-notes of the Dynamic disc. Therefore some reconstruction is needed, but who has done that job and how remains a mystery. In both concertos the middle movement is scored for the two violins with basso continuo alone.
Ammetto's performances are to be preferred in these concertos. They are technically superior and the sound is more pleasant to the ear. That also goes for the Concerto in D (RV 513) which is included on the second disc of L'Arte dell'Arco. It is entirely devoted to concertos for two violins, of which Vivaldi composed 28. Some of these works may have been written as part of Vivaldi's activities as teacher in the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. An example could be the Concerto in C (RV 506) in which the second violin mostly repeats the statements of the first. In various concertos the two solo parts are so demanding that they can only be played by virtuosos such as Vivaldi himself. Fabrizio Ammetto, in the liner-notes to the Tactus recording, comes up with the suggestion that Vivaldi could have played them with his father, Giovanni Battista, a skilled professional violinist and probably his only formal teacher.
These double concertos are not that well represented in the Vivaldi discography, and it is a matter of good fortune that this disc includes five concertos which are not part of the Tactus production. L'Arte dell'Arco begin with the Concerto in a minor (RV 523) in which the violins mainly play at the high end of their compass. It reveals the main weakness of these performances: the intonation, in particular at high notes, is often a little suspect. The violinists produce a bright tone which sometimes tends towards shrill. The Concerto in G (RV 516) is called bright and lively, but the andante has some dark streaks. The tempo seems to be a little too slow, considering the indication of 'molto andante'. The Concerto in c minor (RV 509) is considered a work from Vivaldi's later years. There are indeed some traces of a 'post-baroque' fashion, including strong dynamic contrasts. Again I find the andante molto a shade too slow. The Concerto in D (RV 513) is one of the most virtuosic pieces and the only which was printed - apart from the concertos which were included in Vivaldi's op. 3 collection. The edition dates from 1736 but the concerto was probably written about ten years earlier. The written-out cadenza for both violins in the last movement is especially remarkable and includes various modulations. The disc ends with another showpiece, the Concerto in d minor (RV 514). It is an extroverted work, and the adagio is quite expressive. That character comes off well here.
L'Arte dell'Arco perform these concertos with one instrument per part. That results in a fragile sound in which every little lapse is noticeable. Fabrizio Ammetto and his Orfeo Ensemble have four violins in the tutti which results in a more robust sound and a stronger contrast between soli and tutti. As the size of the ensembles seems to have been variable at the time there is some justification for both options.
On balance, L'Arte dell'Arco deliver performances which can be enjoyed if you are willing to be tolerant in regard to some technical imperfections and a sound which is not always that pleasant to the ear. Considering the fact that this repertoire is a little neglected these two Dynamic discs are to be considered, especially by those who have a special interest in Vivaldi.
Johan van Veen