Modo Antiquo - Federico Maira Sardelli
(p) 2011 Naive France This is the second in a series by Modo Antiquo exploring newly-found works by Don Antonio Vivaldi. Conductor Sardelli is in a unique position of knowing Vivaldi's oeuvre, having been put in charge of the Ryom catalog. In their first release, they combined both instrumental works with vocal ones; this volume is more of the same. Included are several concertos (one for flute RV 431a and one for violin, RV 817), several arias and then two instrumental sonatas, both for violin (RV 816 and 815) from London sources. The CD comes with a seemingly luxurious booklet, the said luxury coming from the size and layout... in this case, the information, translations, etc., were not skimped upon. The opening concerto has a great flautist behind it, Alexis Kossenko. The third movement of this concerto, named Il Gran Mogol, is athletic in every regard, from the adopted tempo, to the approach taken by Kossenko. But as an opener, it was also disappointing on a grand scale. There's something wrong with the recording, in my view. It's loud, and lacks "depth" to the sound, despite sizable reverb existing at the end of the movements. The next piece, sung by mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg takes on some of the problems with the first concerto's recorded sound; but it turns out being an improvement. It's as if the microphones got placed further away from the entire ensemble; I can picture the vocalist's voice being caught up in the dome of a baroque structure. There is more "height" to the sound and more depth, too. What's lost is in the low-end of the continuo; the reverb is perhaps too much for the ensemble. The brightness of the harpsichord and plucked instruments carries through, but the thorough-bass as a whole is a tad muddy. The first two arias come from L'inganno trionfante in amore. Readers will likely know already that the mezzo-range and especially female altos are not my favorite sound. Hallenberg has a very operatic voice, but one that I ultimately wish was more delicate, along the likes of Emma Kirkby. The tempos chosen for each aria seem appropriate. Reading the notes, the recording venue was the Teatro della Pergola in Florence. It might make for a delightful theater space, but I think it is sore as a recording venue. The recorded sound changes again for soloist Anton Steck to shine in the concerto in A from Dresden. The main theme that comes across in the ritornello is almost comical in its awkwardness, but the solo part leads for some fun. The musical themes here remind me of Vivaldi's opus 9 collection. Steck, as usual, does a fine job with the solo, although his instrument lacks something at the upper register, which Vivaldi often enough is employing. We might suspect that this concerto, with an athletic part for the violin, was intended for Pisendel. The recorded sound for this work is better; but it still lacks enough "space." The solo in the middle movement, backed up with upper strings, is odd in that seems like its coming from both left and right speakers equally. Yet it doesn't sound like it's smack dab in the middle, either. Modo Antiquo sounds in fine form for the last movement of this concerto; it's almost swashbuckling fun, with a lot of strumming coming from the bass. When Steck hits some of the higher notes, he nails the intonation lock-on, and in sections with a lot of repetition and sequence, he's in fine form. The next two arias too come from L'inganno trionfante in amore. As before, the first one is faster; the second one, more sedate. The first sonata in D-major for violin and b.c. is in four movements; if you really want to count the first 30-second introduction. The bass dominates the sound and the violin sounds metallic and flat. It's too bad, the sonata's second movement is a lot of fun. The interplay between the top line and the strumming in the bass is stylish and catchy. It's obvious in the slow movement that the violin is located to the left; the sound, however, seems like its bouncing off a plate on the right, as if the players have been boxed-into a small cramped place. The last movement, like the second, is a lot of fun, and shows off Vivaldi's ability to express the sentiment of "zest." A lone aria is the last vocal work; RV 722 comes from Ipermestra. Stylistically, it has a very Vivaldian flavor, reminding me of some of Vivaldi's chamber works for voice and a small ensemble. I am terribly sorry to say this, but I think I'd enjoy the vocal numbers better with a more delicate voice and a better recorded sound. Mainstream vocalist Ceclia Bartoli, for my money, handles Vivaldian repertoire better. The last sonata for violin in 3 movements has a better sound, with better separation between the bass (cello and harpsichord; I believe the tiorba is playing too, but it's blending so well with the other two instruments). This one has more of the flavor of Vivaldi's "Manchester" sonatas. I so much wanted to enjoy this release more than I did. The first one was a real treat, and it's no fault here of Vivaldi's for what was cobbled together for volume 2. There is some really good music by Vivaldi offered here. While the vocalist may not have been my ultimate cup of tea, it was the recorded sound of this release that really harmed the ultimate results. The bass was at times too pronounced; the balance between either the large orchestral ensemble or even the small chamber ensemble doing the sonatas, was poorly captured. And that's the saddest thing: to bring together talented musicians and mess-up on the recorded sound.
I owe this a re-audition with headphones, but in my main listening chair with speakers, I found this release lacking in enough "space," instead sounding compressed. And because of that recorded quality, I have to reserve a recommendation for purchase.
Update: I followed my own recommendation, and re-auditioned portions of this recording with headphones. I wish I had a background in recording engineering to better articulate what I hear. The opening flute concerto is miked very close; it sounds so close, in fact, that I'm laying on the ground right beneath the players. I'd wager that the microphones were each pointing 180 degrees away from one another. What my guess is, however, was that the mikes were right above the performers, pointed likely 100 degrees apart. It's picking up close reflections which is why I think stereo separation is so poor. Listening to a singer that close would be murder; thankfully she is in the distance, which makes sense, and it also captures more of the acoustic of the theater. I liked the sound best in my music room with the solo sonatas for violin; on headphones they too were the best, and the sound is as if I am sitting right in front of the the performers; it's odd spatially, so much so, that I can tell the two voices (violin in one, three in b.c. in the other) are facing opposite directions. This isn't bad; but I'm not sure that should be so apparent. Listening with headphones saves a little bit from this recording and makes it more palpable. But it also reveals that the techniques used to capture this performance were, for some reason, not ones that ultimately served the music or otherwise strong performances well. To give every benefit of the doubt to the engineers, I auditioned the music using a variety of playback software, including Bitperfect and Audirvana, in addition to stock iTunes on Mac OS X. The recording always sounded "better" with the aftermarket players, but nothing, including reversing the polarity, fixed the issues I auditioned. As a point of comparison, I next auditioned the recording of Handel's music by Zefiro released a few years ago on DHM entitled Venus & Adonis, and the comparison was striking. The instruments each had some "air" around them, in what sounds like a more intimate space, and stereo separation among the voices produced a very nice soundstage both using headphones and conventional loudspeakers. In short, I only wish this new release by Modo Antiquo enjoyed the recorded sound of Zefiro's music of Handel.