Avi Avital, mandolin – VIVALDI works – with Venice Baroque Orch. – DGG

Avi Avital, mandolin – VIVALDI: Concerto in A minor, RV 356; Concerto in D major, RV93; Mandolin Concerto in C major, RV 425; Largo from Concerto in C major, RV 443; Trio Sonata in C major, RV 82; Concerto in G minor RV 315 (“Summer” from The Four Seasons); Traditional Venetian song – with Venice Baroque Orch. – DGG B0022627-02,  51:34 [2/24/15] (Distr. by Universal) ****:

(Avi Avital, mandolin; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord; Ophira Zakai, lute; Patrick Sepec, cello; Juan Diego Florez, tenor; Venice Baroque Orch. – DGG,  51:34 (Distr. by Universal) ****:

I have to disclose a personal bias – for a brief shimmering period of my high school education, the classical mandolin was my instrument. These days, the mandolin gets no respect. Images of Tiny Tim’s “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips” on the Johnny Carson show are now etched in the North American psyche. Never mind that he actually played ukulele – yet another much-maligned string instrument. Even a virtuoso of the caliber of Avi Avital will not bring back the reverence of the Baroque period to the mandolin, but this disc is a fine attempt.

As Avital, who wrote all of the transcriptions, says, Vivaldi’s music is the “Old Testament” of the mandolin repertoire. With good reason, as the instrument’s sweet, precise sound (yes, I am biased!) is the ideal foil to the booming lute, harpsichord and organ on this recording. The purity of the musical line, a hallmark of Baroque compositions, is greatly enhanced by the mandolin’s delicate voice, immediately inviting us to listen in closely. Avital takes some risks with the material, to better display the qualities of his beloved instrument – and they all pay off. The sound he achieves with the Venice Baroque Orchestra is full, luxurious and mysterious – just like Venice itself. If you have ever visited the Sinking City, you will be transported back. If you have not, consider this to be your invitation. Juan Diego Florez renders the gondolier’s song in his beautiful tenor and in Venetian dialect. It is yet another reminder that prior to the unification of Italy, fewer than 10% of her citizens spoke the language we know today as “Italian”.  The traditional high quality production values of Deutsche Grammophon recordings are present here as well. Put aside your prejudice against the mandolin and open your ears to the sounds of Venice – you will be glad you did!

—Robert Tomas

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