Rinaldo Alessandrini's ensemble Concerto Italiano has been known for both its instrumental incarnation as well for its vocal one. This CD of "Italian Concertos" dates back to 2004, featuring concertos by Vivaldi, Marcello, and Bach(!). Instead of being comprehensive in any form, it's been put together more like a collection of "favorites," exploring the concept of the late Italian baroque concerto form. Bach makes an appearance by way of his so-called "Italian Concerto," here re-arranged for string ensemble. It's nicely done, and the inclusion of one of the Bach tracks on a Concerto Italiano sampler I once received was the impetus for buying the entire CD. The CD opens with an e-minor concerto for violin by Bendetto Marcello. The opening movement is full of dotted chords, perhaps a Venetian thing, as we've also heard this style in works by Vivaldi. Unlike Vivaldi, however, Marcello adopted a 4-movement design. The second movement suspiciously, however, sounds like a re-work, or early version, of a Vivaldian concerto from his opus 3 collection, l'Estro armonico. Vivaldi's collection, not to mention Marcello's concerto, I believe can fall flat if just played "straight." In order to tease some life into these works, you need some direction with dynamics for the orchestral section and an inventive soloist. CI chose smart tempos, I believe, for this first work (not to mention the entire CD). Their style has always been a step back in the "out there" department compared to Europa Galante or Il Giardino Armonico, two other Italian ensembles. This recording is really no different; they are sensitive, smart performers, but don't go anywhere near "overboard" in the style department. And for this set, this works well. The next concerto is a favorite of mine from, guess where? His opus 3 collection, the concerto D minor for 2 concertato violins, with an opportunity for the cello to shine, too. It has to be my favorite rendition of this work, even rivaling the fine and extrovert performance from Fabio Biondi and friends on Virgin Veritas. Alessandrini has the edge with speed, it simply wakes this piece up a bit, and dynamic contrasts sound natural rather than contrived. The piece sounds well-worn, and comes off as if the players are in their area of real expertise. We re-visit the Marcellos next, this time from his better-known brother Alessandro. He's not my favorite composer, to be honest; an earlier CD of his works by Collegium Musicum 90 is among one of my biggest CD purchase disappointments. There's some potential with the performance to rescue the work, perhaps, but this opening movement for the oboe concerto in d minor is simply too anemic. The last movement has some character, but the musical ideas ultimately feel too simplistically worked out. This is the low-point of the recording, not so much for the oboe playing or performance, it's simply a weak piece of musical art. And how you pair that with Bach's splendid concerto, next, is a big question mark, I think, for the sake of programming! CI take real fun in realizing Bach's BWV 971 as a violin concerto. Bach's music is so well-written, but it's also the style CI adopts that makes it all sound "authentic." It's one of those performances you feel "the love" come through the speakers. It might even say it trumps the solo harpsichord edition for me. I love g-minor concertos, and CI next re-visit Vivaldi with a violin concerto in that key from his opus 4 collection, La Stravaganza. It's among my favorites from the set of 12. This one doesn't sound as comfortable as their reading of the op. 3 concerto, but its nevertheless well-done with excellent projection from the soloist. CI finishes with a real Vivaldi favorite, the so-called "Notte" concerto, for flute and orchestra. Unfortunately the opening movement, with all of its drama of silence between statements exposed some background noise in the recording space. CI really takes their time in the opening; the largo is so slow that, after so many festive allegros before it, you know something exciting is coming. CI performs this on transverse flute, and their flautist isn't afraid to introduce some color into the sound. The amount of tone and pitch bending probably doesn't approach what I heard this year from Ensemble Mattheus in Lyon with this same concerto, but the interpretation here is presented with an equal number of contrasts. The recording engineers played up their magic in not losing the flute in the louder, full-bore orchestral moments in this recording. The "live" location for this recording with ample reverb time sounds to me like a fairly large church (but not yet cathedral territory). By the time we reach the "Sonno" movement (marked largo), I'm wishing they picked it up a little… their contrasts between fast and slow with this concerto are very wide. The concerto, of course, ends with a rollicking Allegro, with plenty of energy up until the end. Perhaps this is not every "best" example of these concertos, but what remains are very strong versions of Bach and the op. 3 concerto from Vivaldi. The others are no slouches. Despite its age, this recording of Concerti Italiani is still a strong release from CI and one you no doubt would value in your collection.