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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Concertos for Strings
Concerto in C (RV 114) [5:55]
Sonata a 4 in E flat 'Al Santo Sepolcro' (RV 130) [4:16]
Concerto in g minor (RV 152) [6:21]
Concerto in d minor (RV 128) [5:28]
Concerto in d minor 'Concerto madrigalesco' (RV 129) [4:22]
Sinfonia from La Senna festeggiante in C (RV 693) [7:06]
Concerto in f minor (RV 143) [6:22]
Concerto in g minor (RV 157) [6:17]
Concerto in e minor (RV 134) [6:06]
Concerto in A (RV 158) [7:49]
Arte dei Suonatori
rec. October 2009, Church of the High Catholic Seminary, Goscikowo-Paradyz, Poland. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1845 [61:53]

Most discs devoted to the oeuvre of Vivaldi are filled with solo concertos. The focus of this recording is the corpus of concertos for strings and basso continuo, without any solo parts. These are sometimes called ripieno concertos, a term Vivaldi himself used in three of them. He composed almost fifty such pieces throughout his career. They are quite different in character, but they have in common that they were written for a string ensemble of some size, rather than one instrument per part. In this genre Vivaldi links to a genre which was popular in the last decades of the 17th century, especially in northern Italy.
A collection of twelve ripieno concertos is preserved in manuscript in the library of the Paris Conservatoire. These may have been the result of a commission by a French music-lover. They include some features of the French style, especially dotted rhythms. The Concertos in C (RV 114) and in g minor (RV 157) belong to this group. The latter is one of the most famous from this part of Vivaldi's oeuvre. In particular the two fast movements are irresistible, and are played here with infectuous enthusiasm. The tempi are up for debate; I have heard them faster, but they also make their mark at this more moderate pace.
Some of Vivaldi's ripieno concertos may have been used as sinfonias to vocal compositions. That is established in the case of the Sinfonia in C which introduces the second part of the serenata La Senna festeggiante (RV 693). Here Vivaldi uses the two fast movements from the Concerto in C (RV 117), with a new slow movement. The fast movements are vintage Vivaldi, whereas the slow movement is highly expressive. The Concerto in e minor (RV 134) has also been used as a sinfonia as the autograph score indicates, but it has not been established as yet for which vocal work it was used. The opening movement is remarkable for the dominant role of chromaticism.
Vivaldi has written several pieces with the addition al Santo Sepolcro. This refers to a practice in Vienna of performing sepulchre oratorios during Holy Week. In his liner-notes Michael Talbot expresses doubt whether these works were written for such performances. He believes Vivaldi might have written them to show his ability to compose in this genre and to invite commissions from Vienna. The fact that a piece on this disc is called 'sonata' means nothing; it seems that Vivaldi used the terms 'concerto' and 'sonata' more or less indiscriminately.
The Concerto Madrigalesco in d minor (RV 129) is the only piece here which is performed with solo strings, without keyboard. Three of the four movements are arrangements of sections from two vocal pieces by Vivaldi, the Magnificat RV 611 and the Kyrie RV 687. The four players perform it with precision and refinement. Very different is the last piece in the programme, the Concerto in A (RV 158) which is a work from the latest stage of Vivaldi's career. Here he embraces the galant idiom which had gained ground at that time. The last movement is particularly brilliant, bringing this disc to a sparkling close.
The string concertos are often used as fillers on discs or as breathing spaces in programmes with solo concertos. There is no problem with that whatsoever but it does them scant justice. It is nice that Arte dei Suonatori has devoted a complete disc to the genre. It was founded in 1993 and during the last ten years or so has developed into one of the leading European baroque ensembles. It produces a very beautiful and warm sound, and delivers engaging performances, without lapsing into exaggeration and mannerism. Its playing is vivid and fresh, and this repertoire is perfectly suited to showing their qualities. However, this disc's main virtue is that it shows Vivaldi's imagination and the diversity created within this genre.
Johan van Veen