Vivaldi: Box Set, opp. 1-12 - L'Arte dell'Arco
Vivaldi Opp. 1-12, Sonatas for Cello and B.C.
Federico Guglielmo, the lead violinist and director of L’Arte dell’Arco took on yet another audacious recording project. I’ve already auditioned their complete Vivaldi Oboe Concertos set but this one took nineteen CDs (and includes a twentieth bonus CDs of cello sonatas). The project focused on recording the complete published collection of Vivaldi’s works, from the opus 1 sonatas to the opus 12 violin concertos. Included are the Four Seasons, L’Estro Armonico, and the flute concertos in opus 10.
They've also recorded the violin concertos of Tartini which has taken longer to record and takes up a lot more hard disk space. For me, I like Vivaldi moreso than Tartini.
The ensemble has adopted the use of a very small ensemble, one player per part (save for continuo) across the project. For this collection everything is fairly recently set to disc. This provides a consistent sound across the twenty CDs.
It is difficult to review twenty CDs in one review. To be fair, these were each released as their own single recording. It is only more recently that the collection is available as a unit. Seeing that I own one or more versions of many of these individual releases already, it made for fun comparisons.
The Worst Part
The worst part of the collection was the art direction for the CDs. The big 20 CD set has a ridiculous photo of Guglielmo looking as if he’s stabbing us with his bow and shoving his violin at us. We are led to believe he’s either crazy, crotchety, or else otherwise rude. The silly photo is reproduced onto every CD sleeve.
The original covers were better, many with historic paintings, but the typesetting I thought was lacking. Brilliant Classics does not seem to subscribe to careful consistency between the covers. Some of the fonts chosen to me looked like budget fonts.
Yes, I mention this not because it’s important but because that’s the worst I could come up with.
The Sound Quality
The sound quality for these recordings is reasonably high. I really enjoyed the separation between ensemble members in the opus 3 set, revealing clarity, depth to the orchestra, and a real stereo effect when the concertos are featuring four violinists.
Sometimes I think the closeness of the microphones might have been too close, but I’d rather have it be too close than too far away, leaving the sound awash in reverb. It also requires the instrumentalists to be a little more tight when it comes to playing together and in tune. They pass muster even when the recording isn’t helping them.
My previous experience with L’Arte dell’Arco performing opus 3, as an example, was not great. Some of their Tartini—especially the early recordings—came across as “rustic.” These recordings, however, sound as if they come from a different world from those. Intonation blemishes that may have been a part of those earlier releases are not to be found. The style of the ensemble’s playing, whether it is tempo choice, dynamics, ornamentation, or just the sound of the strings, is all tastefully done.
There are some cases in which they’re trying hard. That is, the music seems particularly well-rehearsed when it comes to dynamic fireworks or perhaps in a solo. There are other readings that are more relaxed. In most cases the style and sound might be characterized as “The Italian Baroque School,” somehow related to Fabio Biondi and Giovanni Antonini. And I like these other guys. So considering them in the same league is a compliment.
A good comparison is the flute concerto entitled La notte. It's a fun, dramatic concerto that has been recorded in transverse flute formats and with recorder. This recording (along with most of the opus 10 concertos) sounds thin and the drama dial is set kind of low compared, say, to Il Giardino Armonico or Ensemble Mattheus versions. In most cases, however, I found myself perferring these releases over comparisons made to British ensembles such as the English Concert or Academy of Ancient Music. To be fair, some of those recordings are over twenty years old.
A friend played a few tracks for me of this collection which was enough for me to fork over $60 to get the set. In some cases the Arte dell’Arco version has become my favorite compared to earlier releases. In some cases it isn’t, but that’s okay. These readings are well-done enough to still survive as comparable versions and in some cases offer some creative touches that make them stand out.
This set is an excellent way to start out with Vivaldi on period instruments with a period approach to interpretation. For the price and recorded quality they are a great value when purchased as a set.
Seasoned Vivaldi collectors will gain something too by adding these recordings to your collection. Above all else I keep coming back to the idea of “freshness” in the approach.