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GRAMOPHONE (08/2021)
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Reviewer: Charlotte Gardner

Vivaldi was such an original and yet so consistent with his language – its punchy rhythms, dynamic contrasts, surprise shifts in tempo and texture and generally visionary harmonic language – that it’s easy to miss the fact that he also kept a canny eye on what was in fashion, and tweaked his music accordingly. He did, however, out of necessity, because not only was Venice rife with musical competition but the Venetians themselves were a fickle, easily bored bunch. Stagnate and you were yesterday’s man.

You couldn’t hope for a better illustration of this point than the six violin concertos presented on this welcome return to the Vivaldi Edition by Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano, soloist boots filled by their own concertmaster Boris Begelman. Dated onwards of 1725 (incidentally the publication date of The Four Seasons), these six concertos were written as Vivaldi responded to the new galant style hitting Venice through the likes of Porpora and Hasse, while striving in his violin concertos to present an entirely different expressive world with each new offering. In short, a programme that merrily lifts its finger in the direction of Dallapiccola’s cheap (but droll) witticism that, rather than writing 400 concertos, Vivaldi wrote ‘the same concerto 400 times’.

Take the ceremonial French-style opening of RV211 in C, which arguably sounds more Handel than Vivaldi before the pomp gives way to lighter-weighted rhythmic figures. Or, top of the album’s knock-out moments for me, the deeply expressive Largo sitting at the heart of the Concerto in B flat, RV365, where a chain of tutti suspensions leads to an achingly tender arioso violin solo that couldn’t be further removed from The Four Seasons if it tried.

The artists themselves exploit all this theatricality with high aplomb. Begelman is technically precise and full of fun, constantly feeding the ear delicious new colouristic and timbral details. For instance, the little tremor he brings to his line in that aforementioned RV365 Largo at 2'57" is one I’ve been rewinding for multiple times. Or wind back to programme-opening RV283’s concluding Allegro for the earthy sweetness and birdlike agility with which he hops around its lyrical, high-register lines, and the infectious folkiness he brings to its double-stopped spiccato chuggings, topped off by his own dazzling cadenza. Bright-toned Concerto Italiano, meanwhile, are every bit as joyously attuned to him as you’d expect, dispatching their own virtuoso writing with equally crisp rhythm and precision, buoyancy and zesty grace.

No surprise either that the engineering is as good as we’ve come to expect from the series, everyone sounding warm and natural in the space, without noticeable surrounding bloom.

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