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International Record Review - (06/2012)
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Reviewer:  Nicholas Anderson

Here is the fourth disc of violin concertos to be issued by Naïve under the imprint of its Vivaldi Edition. Apart from the operas it is the composer’s violin concertos which provide the richest seam of music as yet unrepresented on disc. Even so, I reckon there are only 21 such works still left unexplored by recording companies.

This new release contains two concertos with which readers are unlikely to be familiar, RV331 and 181. As with its three predecessors the present disc has a subtitle, this one ‘L’imperatore’. Here the reference is to the Austrian Emperor Charles VI, patron to the arts, an enthusiast for music and with whom Vivaldi was personally acquainted. Five of the seven assembled works have association with Charles VI inasmuch as they are drawn, in part at least, from two sets of concertos which Vivaldi dedicated to him, both entitled ‘La cetra’. One of these was printed in 1727 as the composer’s Op. 9; the other, dated 1728, remained in manuscript, has survived incomplete and has only one work in common with the printed opus. That Concerto, in B minor, RV391, is among the finest of them all and is included in the present collection. It is one of only a handful by Vivaldi that requires ‘scordatura’ tuning, in this instance a modification of the outer strings. The Concerto is masterly, with supple outer movements containing passages of virtuosity but also of great lyrical beauty. The most striking of them occurs in the first movement, where, in the third solo section, the soloist assumes the role of accompanist, while a poetic ‘cantilena’ is passed to the first violin line of the tutti . Riccardo Minasi and I Pomo d’Oro give a sparkling account of the music, though the aforementioned ‘ cantilena’ struggles to hold its own against the robust ‘solo’ accompanienent. There is more poetry here than these artists make allowance for.

Better known among the remaining concertos is the E major ‘L’amoroso’, RV271, whose sensuous opening movement is given more opportunity to breathe than in several competing versions. Sometimes, though, I felt that Minasi was too easily carried away by exaggerated and, to my ears, misplaced theatrical gestures which obscure the more alluringly poetic gestures inherent in Vivaldi’s writing. In the case of another E major Concerto (RV263a) Minasi’s theatricality is apposite since the repeated hammer-strokes of its opening movement seem to mirror a characteristic of the Venetian opera sinfonia. Minasi is certainly an impressive virtuoso and his playing is rhythmically exciting and expressively affecting in equal measure. His account of the Largo of the G minor Concerto, RV327 is beautifully sustained and tenderly spoken. Yet too often, elsewhere, I feel cheated of the music’s ‘gentillesse’ and its lyricism.

Notwithstanding such misgivings, though, this is impressive playing by all concerned, even if I must search elsewhere for a B minor Concerto that more readily appeals to my sensibilities. Monica Huggett and the Raglan Baroque Players under Nicholas Kraemer’s affectionate and stylish direction on Virgin Classics immediately spring to mind.
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