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  41:3 (01-02 /2018)
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Reviewer: Michael De Sapio

During his lifetime Vivaldi’s music had a vogue in France, where his style was considered different and exotic. These “Paris Concertos” are so called because the manuscripts resided for a long time in Paris libraries, but also because they may have been among the concertos which the French traveler Charles de Brosses says he purchased from Vivaldi around 1740. They are best described as “concertos without soloist,” sinfonias, or “concertos for strings,” sometimes featuring a concertino/tutti contrast and sometimes not. A few of the concertos have no tutti at all but are essentially chamber pieces performed one player to a part.

In any event, one misses the solo-tutti dialectic of Vivaldi’s solo concertos. With the structural pillars of the solo and ritornello absent, the musical argument mainly consists of statement and restatement of the themes with brief development; accordingly, the concertos are short and feel lightweight. Still, there is considerable invention here as well as a variety of movement types, including three instances of a chaconne (the last movement of RV 114, and the first and last movements of RV 157). The highly original last movement of RV 159 alternates major and minor modes with abandon. In terms of musical texture, we often find Vivaldi presenting his ritornello themes in unison violins, with the violas and basses playing backup figures. According to your point of view, this might be a forward-looking pre-Classical gesture or simply the recourse of a busy, time-saving composer.

Il delirio fantastico, one of a seemingly endless supply of Baroque groups on the European scene, plays this music in a spirited and moderately abrasive style, using what sounds like a fairly large string ensemble. But they are caught in a recessed acoustic which gives a somewhat glassy quality to their sound. Now, I see that there are versions of these concertos by Modo Antico and the always reliable Collegium Musicum 90 (which, interestingly, doubles the strings with winds for some of the concertos). Modo Antico’s approach, accessed via YouTube, is similar to Delirio’s, yet more solid and cohesive as well as better recorded. It is also played a tone higher at A=440—equivalent to modern pitch as well as the Venetian pitch of Vivaldi’s day—lending brightness to the sound. Indeed, Antico shows us more of the fire, imagination, and distinctiveness of these concertos than does Delirio. Therefore, I would recommend either their version or Collegium’s as a first choice.

On a final note: Could I introduce a motion to outlaw the use of the moniker “Red Priest” in reference to Vivaldi? The proper translation of il prete rosso is surely “the red-headed priest.” (Rosso means both “red” and “red-haired.”) Vivaldi was not a Communist.

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