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Fanfare Magazine # 34:6 (07-08/2011)

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Reviewer: B
ertil van Boer

Now, ..., we have two recordings back to back, one by Il Giardino Armonico using the same Eric Cross edition of the Chandos, and the second (*) on budget label Brilliant Classics with L’Arte dell’Arco, using an Italian edition by Vittorio Bolcato. Both are part (ostensibly) of complete series of Vivaldi operas, the former as part of the project to record all of Vivaldi’s immense library (this is Vol. 14 of the theater works), and the latter because this is something Brilliant Classics does to mass-market composers. Both claim to have the authoritative autograph behind their editions, and indeed I could discern very little difference between the two. Indeed, the only missing number is the final Allegro of the Sinfonia in the Brilliant Classics version. Since opera sinfonias almost always had three movements, and Vivaldi originally included it when it was published separately as an instrumental work, the Naïve recording is a bit more “complete.”

"How does one compare the two recordings? Both ensembles perform the music well with good intonation and tempos. One is a bit crisper in one aria (for example, the
furore aria “Par tormento” in the Naïve version features darting string accompaniment and flexible phrasing, while the Brilliant Classics version is more restrained), while the other has a cleaner rendition in another (such as the opening aria of Cleonilla, where there is energy though not always precision in the Brilliant Classics, but is duller in tone in the Naïve version). The soloists, too, are variable in their roles; all five in each recording are fine and perform their often gnarly lines with accuracy and ease. My preference is for elements of both; I find Sonia Prina’s contralto more refined and less of a warble than Tuva Semmingsen’s mezzo in the role of Ottone, but Maria Martorana gives her role as Cleonilla a much brighter tone than the richer voice of Verónica Cangemi. Both Luca Dordolo and Topi Lehtipuu are fine in their limited tenor roles, only three brief arias, and of the Caio Silios, my preference is for Florin Ouatu’s lyrical tone over the sometimes insecure singing of Julia Lezhneva. All members of the casts handle the recitatives with swift passion, so they are equal there. In terms of recording quality, the sound is very much warmer in the Naïve version, but there are moments, such as Ottone’s second-act aria “Come l’onda,” where a livelier sound is more welcome. Both are, in a word, fine recordings and it will come down to a matter of personal preference which to choose..." 

The opera itself may not be the most innovative work in the world and certainly does not achieve the same moments of greatness that Vivaldi later accomplished, but it is certain to please those who like Baroque opera seria. So, pick one or the other; you won’t go wrong.

* Ottone in villa. L'Arte dell'Arco, dir. Frederico Guglielmo, Brilliant Classics »BRIL 94 105

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