CD Antonio Vivaldi, Concerti e Sinfonie per archi e continuo
Most discs devoted to the oeuvre of Vivaldi are filled with solo concertos. The focus of this recording is the corpus of concertos or sinfonias for strings and basso continuo, without any solo parts. Vivaldi’s oeuvre includes a little over forty of the former genre and around ten of the latter. The genre of the concerto a quattro – scored for two violins, viola and bc – was quite popular in the late 17th century and that did not change at the end of Vivaldi’s life. Around 1740 Baldassare Galuppi composed a set of seven concertos in this genre.
There is no fundamental difference between the concerto – in some manuscripts called concerto ripieno – and the sinfonia. As Daniela Demicheli explains in her liner-notes, the main difference is the treatment of counterpoint. This is more elaborated in the concertos, whereas the sinfonias are generally more homophonic. Here the melody has greater importance and the two violins often play in unison. There is also a difference in keys: the concertos are mostly in minor keys, the sinfonias are largely in major.
Most of Vivaldi’s concertos and sinfonias were composed for and played by the orchestra of the ladies of the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi was acting as maestro de’ concerti. Whereas the concertos with solo parts were vehicles to show the ladies’ considerable virtuosity, these compositions were more suitable to demonstrate the qualities of the Ospedale’s orchestra as a whole.
The string concertos are often used as fillers on discs or as breathing spaces in programmes with solo concertos. There is no problem with that whatsoever, but it hardly does them justice. In the liner-notes to another disc with such concertos Lindsay Kemp writes that they contain “dashing scales, pounding basses, flickering arpeggios, exquisitely drawn-out chord sequences, sweetly touching melodies …”. That is amply demonstrated in the pieces selected for the present disc. The affettuoso from the Sinfonia in C (RV 116) is quite pathetic, and the adagio from the Concerto in D (RV 123) is an example of a slow movement full of expression.
A collection of twelve ripieno concertos is preserved in manuscript in the library of the Paris Conservatoire. These may have been the result of a commission by a French music lover. They include some features of the French style, especially dotted rhythms. The Concerto in g minor (RV 157) belongs to this group. It is one of the most famous of this part of Vivaldi’s oeuvre.
In the Sinfonia in G (RV 149) two violin parts have the addition con l’arco (on the string) and have to play staccato, two further violin parts are marked violini pizziccati. The viola and the cello also have to play pizzicato. This indicates that this piece cannot be played with one instrument per part, which could be suggested by the first movement, which has only two violin and one viola part plus basso continuo. This is probably the reason why the performers play all the concertos and sinfonias with four violins and one viola, plus cello, double bass and harpsichord.
A very nice performance it is. The tempi are well chosen, without exaggerations, but also without being too slow, which was often the case in recordings of English ensembles of some decades ago. Those were my first acquaintances with these concertos but nowadays Italian ensembles have shown that they are more than nice fillers in a programme of solo concertos. They can perfectly stand on their own feet and in this recording the polyphonic, theatrical and expressive qualities of these pieces are brought to light.