Concerto Italiano perform Vivaldi overtures, or string concertos. (p) 2004 Opus 111. We each know Vivaldi wrote for a diverse collection of instruments, in different styles, and he was prolific not only in writing violin concertos, but also operas, sonatas, and the like. This collection highlights string concertos that do not feature a single soloist, they were most likely written as opera introductions, or for ensembles where a clear soloist was not available. Some are virtuosic, but others are not, to support my later claim. Concerto Italiano has made a good name for itself, although I feel they excel far more at singing than playing. There are some real Vivaldi gems in this disc, notably, the G-minor toe-tapper RV 153. Others, too, are unknown to me (always a good sign, I love exploring new works on newly released CDs). RV 121 in D major is sprightly played, but does the work lack something with a soloist making their entrance? I think perhaps, but I am not sure. It's like a solo concerto with the solo parts taken out. The ensemble plays at a energetic speed that makes you smile, and all the while, they stick together at this athletic stride. Takes guts and practice, they have had both, I am sure. The somber middle movement of RV 121 is a series of chords that here is played well, in the minor mode, using dynamics to stir interest and drama. The lute in the background is noodling around, but nevertheless, I like the sound. They also include the famous Madrigalesco concerto, RV 129 which has never been a favorite. Yet, perhaps they can do it justice, knowing their director's experience with madrigals? It certainly takes on new flavor with this ensemble. The second movement, fugal, takes a steady, fast pace, and drama really does live through the rising line. This does not sound like Vivaldi, but Concerto Italiano manage to keep my interest whet. The ensemble throws quite a bit of sass into RV 154, another G-minor work from Vivaldi. The accents are a welcome change from the concerto I thought I once knew. I do wonder how this one in particular would sound without the "full ensemble" sound? A more chamber approach on a few of these might have been a welcome change. RV 143, a concerto in F minor, is an odd one, indeed. Certain parts sound too slow (due to the way Vivaldi is moving harmonies), While I thought there were opportunities for some interpretive graces, they play it here pretty straight. Another old favorite is RV 156, again in my favorite key of G-minor. Here they take a slower tempo in the first movement, but it's played well, and the ensemble sound is growing on me. The third movement takes off at a nice fast pace, the ensemble maintains control here, but the upper parts are definitely more at ease than the lower. With longer notes, I feel they could be doing more with dynamics. The excitement meter here isn't all the way up. A slight disappointment with their third movement, I feel under the hands of Biondi, we might have gotten something more ignited. RV 123 is another delight in D major. Nice tight playing, plus, a showing-off of Vivaldi's invention in this somewhat limiting format of a "string concerto." All in all, this is an overly satisfying release. Many opportunities to ignite excitement through dynamic playing are taken, and while many of the 37 generous tracks are familiar, many too, are not. Highly recommended.
Published first in October, 2005.