There are a certain collection of CDs that I buy, seemingly without thought, and these include those by Europa Galante, under the direction of Fabio Biondi, and this group playing Vivaldi. It was their earlier recording, the first on Virgin Veritas of L'estro armonico that hooked me; this new release explores works for wind and string instruments under the moniker volume 2, concertos for many instruments. (p) 2005 Virgin Classics I gather that you're reading this because you love the music and the performances and want to see what others think... did I hear what you do? Do you hear what I do? There is a reviewer at Amazon that wrote a review; one point I agree with, the other I do not:
This release is obviously a must have for anyone who buys these sorts of recordings, but it's also very accessible music that would make an ideal gift for a child or perhaps someone just getting into music. This release is not beyond criticism, however lovely it may be. There are a few brief spots where the solo playing isn't "technically" perfect, but it doesn't necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the performances. Music for a child? I can hardly think the opening concerto, with horns at full-blast and timpani would be suitable for childplay listening. But I do agree there are blemishes in the playing which take this release a notch-down from where other Biondi recordings have enjoyed prestige. I was not a big fan of their volume 1, as it was poorly recorded in a too-live acoustic. Here, the acoustic is well-done, but the un-even quality of works and a few interpretive choices rob this recording of top-shelf status. What we get in this release are familiars and some new concerti: RV 562a in three movements, with an added alternative movement penned by Pisendel which includes horns and timpani, RV 566, RV 569, the d-minor work for lute and viola d'amore RV 540, RV 561, a cello concerto RV 413, and a 4-violin concerto, RV 553. A diverse lot, for sure, and in general the orchestra sounds great, and the woodwinds especially in this ensemble are all strong players. The opening concerto is certainly different from what we might ever expect from Vivaldi... the sound of drums takes adjustment. The horns earn their money five times over. I like loud, brash, and creative horn players, and these guys are full of life. What's odd about the miking is that the horns are "far away" and I doubt they were individually miked. The strings sound front and center, and we hear the oboes somewhat behind. Biondi's playing is energetic with his tell-tale tone and while the ensemble here does a commendable job, I think any disappointment I reserve goes to the composer in this case... I no doubt guess this work was written for a special occasion for the types of players available at that venue. The next concerto was already known, and the tempo chosen here to open is brisk. In fact, in an old dictionary I have, the definition for brisk is accompanied by a reference to this recording. I found the middle movement weak; I felt it was too tame for the fast, energetic opening. I would have taken the tempo faster, and I am not sure I cared for the colorful-sounding harp in the continuo. The third movement has been done better elsewhere, here too muted in sound, and too flat in dynamics. The next work in F is also familiar, and I expected Biondi to do some interesting things with the different sections. Good sound again. Must be those horns. But do I detect rushing? Middle movement here is better; Biondi's violin is very transparently recorded and every single detail is detectable. The vibrato I detect in the playing isn't overdone, per se, but I find it somewhat disconcerting in a few places. The full orchestral sound in the closing movement is thick, full, and if I dare say, richer-sounding than Vivaldi's palette of instruments. What's going on with tempo, however? At one point, 1:00 in, during some violin passage work, the ensemble is speeding up. I would have expected better from them. The least-admired reading on the CD comes from the great concerto by Vivaldi for two infrequently solo-ed instruments, the viola da amore, and the lute. It's a wonderful work that I feel is treated here with the wrong type of styling. Like wearing the wrong type of dress to a wedding. EG play RV 561 well; it's not my favorite Vivaldi concerto, but the violin and 2 cellos have it all together. The fast runs by Biondi tell us he's completely in charge, and technically has all the notes down... it's this brand of confidence that I am more used-to with EG under Biondi. The solo cello concerto in G is over-rushed in its opening, but who the heck cares... it sounds like fun, and I have other versions to listen to if I like it slow. The cello sound here is a little choked... very nasal. But the frenzied orchestra keeps it together to match Biondi's vision. The final movement matches the brisk, frenzied-pace of the first, with some now-characteristic Biondi "bites" with accented gestures added by the entire ensemble. I don't know what possessed Vivaldi to write a concerto in B-flat for four violins, but he might have been better-off to have skipped the exercise. It does have its moments, and EG give it their all, but the work for me simply isn't that rewarding. In full, the disc is good, but not superlative. In some cases, the composer Vivaldi let me down, and in others, Biondi with poorly-judged cadenza and the ensemble with some tempos that they pushed a little too hard during VIvaldi's sequences of chords.