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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Vivaldi x2
Concerto in F for 2 horns, strings & basso continuo, RV 539 [8.21]
Concerto in D minor for 2 oboes, strings & basso continuo, RV 535 [9.31]
Concerto in A for violin, cello, strings & basso continuo, RV 546 [9.51]
Concerto in G for oboe, bassoon, strings & basso continuo, RV 545 [10.42]
Concerto in F for 2 horns, strings & basso continuo, RV 538 [9.20]
Concerto in B flat for violin, cello, strings & basso continuo, RV 547 [9.07]
Concerto in A minor for 2 oboes, strings & basso continuo, RV 536 [6.40]
Concerto per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B. in F for 2 horns, 2 oboes, bassoon, violin, cello, strings & basso continuo, RV 574 [11.53]
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler (baroque violin)
rec. 2018, Cedars Hall, Wells, UK
AVIE AV2392 [75.32]

The title Vivaldi x2 might seem rather unusual but it drew me to this album released by period instrument ensemble La Serenissima. It’s a collection of captivating double concertos that Vivaldi wrote for hunting horns, oboes, bassoon, violin, cello and basso continuo. Vivaldi was one of a relatively small number of baroque composers to cultivate the form of the double concerto.

Between 1704-38 Vivaldi was engaged as violin teacher and chorus master at the renowned Ospedale della Pietà, the charitable institution in Venice for orphans and abandoned girls, where women were able to train and perform as musicians. At the Pietà, Vivaldi was able to capitalise on the talent available to him as vocal or instrumental soloists or in the student orchestra. Vivaldi wrote a considerable number of concertos for two soloists and orchestra comprising of some forty pairs of the same instrument with a further eighteen for contrasting instruments. It is feasible that many or all of these double concertos were designed for use with the talented Pietà students.

Formed in 1994, early music ensemble La Serenissima is directed here from the violin by its founder and artistic director Adrian Chandler. Specialising in performing mainly Italian baroque repertoire, the players of La Serenissima use a mixture of authentic instruments or modern copies with the stringed instruments fitted with gut and using period bows. Here La Serenissima perform eight double concertos, comprising of four with pairs of the same instrument, three of different instruments and the grandly named ‘Concerto per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B.’, RV 574 scored for two horns (trombon da caccia) and two oboes, bassoon, violin, cello, strings and basso. Here La Serenissima employ a rich basso continuo section which includes bassoon, theorbo or baroque guitar and harpsichord.

Particularly impressive are the pair of double horn concertos both in F major employing what are described as standard hunting horns, played stylishly with a rich rounded tone. Only in the opening movement of RV 539 does the playing show some slight strain in the challenging demands of the high tessitura. Here I was struck by how much the horns sound like trumpets. The playing from the solo oboists is impeccable, emitting an attractive reedy tone and the solo violin is played with especially clean articulation and fluency. Highly rewarding, and probably the most interesting score on the album, is the ripieno concerto for 2 horns, 2 oboes, bassoon, violin, cello, strings & basso, RV 574. This concerto continues to perplex musicologists with its dedication ‘Concerto per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B.’ In the notes it states that musicologist Carlo Vitali has put forward a possible meaning of the dedication as Sua Altezza Serenissima Il Signor Principe Giuseppe Maria de’ Gonzaga (or else di Guastalla) Signor Mio Benignissimo (His Most Serene Highness My Lord Prince Giuseppe Maria de’ Gonzaga, My Most Kind Master). Gonzaga was the brother of the Duke of the small state of Guastalla. The unity of the soloists is striking, producing such vivid colours, with especially inspiring playing from the solo violin.

La Serenissima brings these double concertos to life with eminently stylish accounts, performed with both discernment and uncommon proficiency, communicating a distinct sense of freedom. These are engaging performances from La Serenissima, full of detail, often infused with the spirit of the dance and never feel rushed. It’s hard to fault the fresh, vibrant and buoyant playing in the dance-like Allegros with the slow movements containing a relaxing, sometimes dreamily reflective feel. Adrian Chandler, using a Rowland Ross violin (1981) after Amati, emits an attractive tone and throughout one feels a supreme solidarity with La Serenissima.

Recorded at Cedars Hall, Wells, the sound engineers can be commended for providing excellent clarity although the harpsichord might have been placed a touch further forward. There is an interesting and informative booklet essay written by Adrian Chandler imparting his specialist knowledge with proficiency. Furthermore, there is a listing of all the individual players, together with information concerning the make of each instrument being played.

This album of Vivaldi double concertos receiving captivating performances from La Serenissima is a sure-fire winner.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Brian Wilson


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