A long time ago, I found what I considered the best "sound" in baroque music through recordings. It was the German ensemble, Musica Antiqua Köln, and everything came from that. Others must have noticed too. "I once was a member of MAK..." It became a pedigree, like any other well-known ensemble, teacher, or prestigious school. At around the time of their release of the Heinichen concerti, I found that Goebel was no longer performing first violin. News traveled slow back then without the Web. I found out later about the hand injury. One of his "deputy" violinists, one who had the same sound (likely in part because he was using some of the same instruments used by Goebel) was Florian Deuter. Today, Deuter plays with Harmonie Universelle, a period ensemble that recently released a 2-CD set of Vivaldi Concertos. The label promised these were all new recordings, but the truth is, I'd already heard a few in earlier releases by other ensembles. I have a thing, you know, of collecting Vivaldi. It was inevitable. It's hard to put a finger on the approach here. The easiest thing to ask yourself is this: Who does this sound like? I have to admit the concertos are not all among Vivaldi's best. There's probably a reason, you see, why so many of these concerti have existed up to this point un-recorded. So, that unfamiliar, "not as well crafted quality" in the concerti's writing throws you for a loop. Then the sound... The ensemble sounds medium sized, in a somewhat live, but not too distant acoustic. The playing is full of dynamic contrasts, but none too severe. There are plenty of opportunities for Deuter to show off (these concerti seem to be ripe with little snippets of double-stopping angst before the last ritornello closes the movement). He does so cleanly, ever in-tune, but the energy he builds up is seemingly ignored by the ensemble. Take RV 275, a concerto in A minor. The opening states the theme with little phrases that act as echoes. Deuter's solos are clean with a nice rounded tone to the sound, nothing special, but it's good playing. Problems creep-in when this sound just dove-tails perfectly into the ensemble sound. Now some may go for that type of thing, I like it when there's something about the soloist's style (whether that be articulation, timbre, or volume) that separates him or her from the ensemble a little more cleanly. I guess I can't hold it against them if they all follow his lead and have an integrated sound. The middle movement of RV 275 is dead. The soloist this time around is out front, but with hardly any variation in affect. Upper strings provide the accompaniment, as it does in more than one Vivaldian violin concerto. But this accompaniment isn't saying terribly much. The interpretation is especially dry, and that's maybe the best word to describe the entire collection: a tad dry. HU and their recording make me think back to some of the early recordings by the British ensembles (read: AAM, English Concert) in their approach. They were never very severe, and at times may have held-back with a tad too much politeness. It's not that HU doesn't feel the fire (as Vivaldi put on the page in the final movement of RV 275 as my example). It's just that other ensembles seem to reveal these characteristics with more definition, more saturation. Take Ensemble Matheus led by Spinosi. One per part playing (I cannot vouch for how many per part HU uses, but in least a few tracks, it sounds beefier than 1 per part), freedom from an ever-persistent tempo, and a whole lot of verve define their playing (both instrumental and in opera). While FD and his HU manage to cover a lot of (new) ground, their effort lacks the flexible penache that's played as a hallmark for Europa Galante and Il Giardino Armonico. While I ultimately found some tracks more energetic than others on this release, there's something about the style that is just missing here. For the good, a good number of unfamiliar Vivaldi concerti played with fine attention to intonation and just tempi. For the bad, performances that stand bland in comparison to second and third generation ensembles playing similar repertoire.