About this Recording
8.557215 - VIVALDI: Chamber Concertos
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Concertos for Recorder

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678, the son of a barber who later served as a violinist at the great Basilica of San Marco, where the Gabrielis and then Monteverdi had presided. Vivaldi studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same time he won a reputation for himself as a violinist of phenomenal ability and was appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pietà. This last was one of four such charitable institutions, established for the education of orphan, indigent or illegitimate girls and boasting a particularly fine musical tradition, which attracted visitors to Venice from other countries. Here the girls were trained in music, some of the more talented continuing to serve there as assistant teachers, earning the dowry necessary for marriage. Vivaldi’s association with the Pietà continued intermittently throughout his life, interrupted in 1718 when he moved for three years to Mantua as Maestro di Cappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse- Darmstadt, appointed governor of the city by the Emperor in Vienna. In Venice again, in 1723 Vivaldi returned to the Pietà under a freer form of contract that provided at first for the composition of two new concertos every month, some of which he would himself direct. At the same time he enjoyed a connection with the theatre, as the composer of some fifty operas, and possibly many more, and as director and manager. He finally left Venice in 1741, travelling to Vienna, where there seemed some possibility of furthering his career under the imperial patronage of Charles VI, whose relatively sudden death proved as inopportune for Vivaldi as it did for the Habsburg dynasty. Vivaldi died in Vienna in July, a month to the day from his arrival in the city, in relative poverty. At one time he had been worth 50,000 ducats a year, it seemed, but now had little to show for it, as he arranged for the sale of some of the music he had brought with him.

In perfecting the newly developing form of the Italian solo concerto Vivaldi played an important part. He left nearly five hundred concertos. Many of these were for his own instrument, the violin, but there were others for a variety of solo instruments or for groups of instruments. He claimed to be able to compose a new work quicker than a copyist could write it out, and he clearly coupled immense facility with a remarkable capacity for variety within the confines of the threemovement form, with its faster outer movements framing a central slow movement.

Some 22 concertos of Vivaldi survive, scored for various instruments and in various sources, with basso continuo. Seven of these, here recorded, include the recorder, while two others offer alternative instrumentation, suggesting flute or violin as possible alternatives. The Concerto in G minor, RV 103, is scored for recorder, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord continuo, instrumentation particularly effective in this chamber concerto. The first movement, with the customary recurrent ritornello, is followed by a Largo duet for recorder and oboe over the bassoon and harpsichord accompaniment. The concerto ends with a rapid final Allegro.

The Concerto in D major, RV 92, is for recorder and violin, with the bass line entrusted either to bassoon or cello, here to the latter, which plays a particularly active part in the opening Allegro. Violin and recorder join in a moving duet in the second movement, marked Larghetto, one instrument following and joining with the other, as in the final Allegro, with the close imitation, one of the other.

The Concerto in G minor, RV 105, one of five surviving chamber concertos in this key, is scored for recorder, oboe, violin and bassoon, with cello and harpsichord continuo. The Largo is an aria for recorder, with the bassoon alone providing the bass line. The other instruments return for the concluding Allegro molto, the bassoon now resuming its active solo rôle.

Scored for the same forces, recorder, oboe, violin and bassoon, with cello and harpsichord continuo, the Concerto in D major, RV 94, opens energetically, with the violin given the first solo episode, before the recorder moves into prominence. The following Largo is again given to recorder, violin and bassoon, the last providing a bass to the aria of the recorder, while the violin offers an accompanying broken-chord texture. For the final Allegro the other instruments return, with the violin again particularly active and even stratospheric in a movement of characteristic variety and invention.

The Concerto in A minor, RV 108, for recorder, two violins and cello and harpsichord continuo, gives due prominence to the first of these instruments in the opening Allegro, with the violins playing a largely ripieno rôle. They introduce the following Largo, with its recorder aria, and the concerto ends with a movement in lively gigue-like figuration.

With recorder, oboe, two violins, and continuo supplied by cello and harpsichord, the Concerto in C major, RV 87, opens with what seems about to be a recorder aria, soon replaced by the vigorous entry of the whole ensemble, with textures that find a place for the contrasting of the pair of wind instruments with the two violins. The slow movement is for recorder and continuo, again in the form of a moving aria. The oboe abruptly breaks the mood with the final Allegro assai, with solo episodes for the two wind instruments, largely accompanied by the violins and continuo instruments.

The Concerto in G major, RV 101, for recorder, oboe, violin and bassoon, with cello and harpsichord continuo presents the ritornello in initial unanimity, with important solo episodes entrusted to the recorder. Vivaldi makes use of the whole ensemble in the Largo, for the most part providing a ripieno accompaniment to a recorder aria. The recorder remains prominent in the virtuoso episodes of the closing Allegro.

Keith Anderson

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