Fabio Biondi (violin) and Europa Galante release a recording of Vivaldi “farewell” concertos, drawn from a collection late in the composer’s life, intended for an audience in Vienna on the Glossa label (GCD 923402). The recorded sound is so up-close and crystalline clear, Biondi is somewhat positioned into my right ear. Every detail is to be heard, and the good news is, he’s on top form, as is his ensemble.
Among Vivaldi’s late concertos, the following are included:
- RV 390,
- RV 273,
- RV 371,
- RV 189,
- RV 367, and
- RV 286, “Per la solenita”
Biondi is no stranger to Vivaldi’s music, so much of it having been recorded on the Virgin Veritas label, but in that legacy, his latest recordings on VV left me wanting for a better recorded sound quality. This recording turns that want on it’s tail end, and what comes across so clearly is Biondi’s mastery of the instrument and his ability to play with such authority and confidence. In Vivaldi’s later works, he adopts to the trend of the time of exploring the upper limit of the instrument with high notes. The intensity is no better found than in the E minor concerto, in three movements, RV 273.
Vivaldi also explores structures beyond the familiar three movement, fast-slow-fast structure for which he routinely returned. The B-flat major concerto begins slowly, and EG take on a tempo that isn’t overly quick, but leaves room for the solo that comes later. It includes plenty of drama, that in part, you can imagine taking place in half-time, but then the writing surprises you with, say, a giant leap upward. Infused in the writing are old cliches, almost certainly intended with a touch of humor, but by the first movement’s end in RV 371 we might not be quite sure what we’ve heard? This is Vivaldi trying out new ideas.
In the C major concerto, the ripieno and introduction takes far longer, than say, what we become used to in Vivaldi’s opp. 3 or 4. The solos are less melodic, and to my ear, are welcoming of improvisation using stock not supplied in the manuscript. The slow movements, too, can be longer than what we found in Vivaldi’s earlier works; the solos are so well executed by Biondi, who has never been shy of applying a little vibrato to sweeten his tone. The balance between him and the ensemble is also well captured in the recording; despite at times playing softly, Biondi always remains in front of the ensemble.
The C major ends with a rollicking-fast movement, reminiscent of Vivaldi’s earlier writing, so far as I’d say he borrowed from a good idea he’d used in the past. The solo takes on new territory, however, going higher above the staff. It would be certainly material to compete with the fashion of Locatelli or Tartini.
RV 286, not unlike others on this recording, opens with a big “statement”, at a slower tempo, likely arresting the audience’s attention before the first full movement began. I can’t say I like any of it, as the musical material is lean on interest. But its inclusion likely is there either to signal his expansion of style, or as a pragmatic call for performance in a new locale.
I very much enjoyed this new release from Biondi and company. If you thought you knew Vivaldi, it offers a different taste from his font of ideas and ink, not to mention his pen. I’d wager to say that Europa Galante has never sounded this good on record before. With all those superlatives, I do want to make a comment about the text and its composer.
From the Glossa release of this recording:
Where Biondi’s recent > Il Diario di Chiara> release saw a late Vivaldi surrounded by colleagues and successors at the Pietà in Venice, > I concerti dell’addio> sees him in a Vienna in mourning for its recently- deceased emperor and more attuned to the now- fashionable galante style than to that of the Red Priest, however brilliant and ebullient Vivaldi’s compositional spirit continued to be. The six concertos on this disc are all drawn from a collection sold in 1741 – very cheaply it seems – to the count Vinciguerra Collalto, and today kept in Brno, and bear witness to Vivaldi’s late style.
So, Vivaldi’s hungry for new business? I can’t say these pieces represent the “best of Vivaldi.” They do reveal a lot about the composer, who seemed to think on context of chunks of musical material; you might think of this as taking groups of several measures of music and cutting them up so that you could re-arrange a piece substituting different set of those “chunks.” Some of those moments will sound familiar and typical, others will sound from not in “our” Vivaldi’s sound world, and others sound as if they were literally substituted with new, different material. Vivaldi no doubt, a pragmatic man, I could see taking ideas and quickly assembling new clothes from the fabrics he was already so used to using. In some cases, the new threads took on the flavor of what he no doubt experienced around him, which included an expanded gamut for the solo violin. I’d wager to say these concertos are very much left to us as a document showing Vivaldi as a pragmatic author. They speak of his previously-proven genius, but somehow for me, fall short of what he likely was ultimately capable of. These concertos are worth our listen, but also remind us that everything he touched was not perfection. Locatelli, probably moreso than Tartini, would too write in this style, but in a way that was lighter and divorced of the formulaic cliches that Vivaldi established.
Maybe I’m old fashioned. Despite the fact that Vivaldi doesn’t fully break out of his older stylistic idioms, I still prefer him as a composer compared to the Italians of the late baroque. This recording documents with technical expertise what his attempt to speak to the new style was like, as he left his home in Venice.