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VIVALDI: The Complete Viola D’Amore Concertos – Rachel Barton Pine, viola d’amore/ Hopkinson Smith, lute/ Ars Antiqua – Cedille

VIVALDI: The Complete Viola D’Amore Concertos = Concerto in D Major, RV 392; Concerto in d minor, RV 595; Concerto in F Major, RV 97; Concerto in d minor, RV 394; Concerto in d minor, RV 395; Concerto in A Major, RV 396; Concerto in a minor, RV 397; Concerto in d minor, RV 540 – Rachel Barton Pine, viola d’amore/ Hopkinson Smith, lute/ Ars Antiqua – Cedille CDR 90000 159, 79:11 (9/11/15)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

In 2014, Rachel Burton Pine acquired, through her 2010 work with the Viola D’Amore Society of Chicago, a 1774 Nicola Gagliano 12-string viola d’amore, an instrument she had coveted from her teenage years. Six of the strings play; the other six resonate. The special sound of the instrument appealed to Vivaldi, but no less to Leopold Mozart, who claimed the instrument “a special kind of violin that sounds especially beautiful in the stillness of the night.”  Pine collaborates with the Chicago-based Ars Antigua, an ensemble formed in 2000 by bassist Jerry Fuller that performs Renaissance and Baroque music in historically alert style.

The set of eight concertos Pine inscribes here reveals Vivaldi in his typically inventive and coloristic diversity, with bountiful passages that exploit terraced dynamics, singing, cheerful ritornellos, and usage of the scordatura tuning and bariolage effects of which the instrument is capable. The most unusual of the set, RV 97 in F Major, exploits the low woodwinds, especially the bassoon and oboe.  Its slow introduction – Largo – aligns the concerto with the French overture style. The middle movement enjoys the texture of trio sonata, with bassoon obbligato. The last movement Allegro has the open-air character of a fox hunt combined with a decidedly rustic dance.

Several of the concertos are set in d minor, which give their opening movements a darkly exotic cast. The RV 394 presents a middle movement set as a siciliano, with an accompaniment in four parts. The last movement allows the solo player to add a cadenza – which Pine includes generously – before the da capo. The brisk Lombardic rhythm of the finale testifies to the infectious energy Vivaldi generates at will.
The RV 393 opts for varying combinations with the viola d’amore in the opening Allegro, alternating unison strings with the solo continuo.  The RV 395 – which exploits some pungent double-stops – places the cadenza in what would become its traditional locus on a dominant chord prior to the end of the opening movement and then proceeds to the familiar ritornello. The middle movement Andante employs rich chords in triplets. The thoughtful Allegro finale maintains a dramatic dignity and often delicate scoring quite captivating.

The entire affect of the music alters with the A Major Concerto, RV 396, an exuberant, sunny piece notated in the alto clef.  Pine’s part sounds an octave higher, scordatura, to compete with the high-flown fioritura of the orchestra. A lithe brilliance – in sixteenth triplets – marks the simultaneous flow of music and its harmonization.  After a trio-sonata texture in the Andante, the up-bow staccatos of the last movement testify to Vivaldi’s own mastery of his instrument. The ensuing, inflamed RV 397 a minor Concerto adds new material to the solo’s first movement part, while dipping down into the lower registers for the Largo. Then, Vivaldi exploits Neapolitan harmony in the Allegro finale, which along with diminished thirds, lends another exotic quality to Vivaldi’s color arsenal.

The last and most expansive of the series, the double Concerto in d minor for viola d’amore and lute, RV 540, asks the orchestra to play con sordino, as to allow the lute its sonorous effect.  The natural ambiance of viola d’amore and lute influenced Bach for his passages of the St. John Passion with similar scoring.  The serenade, dialogue character of the outer movements often invokes the same transparent beauty we know from Vivaldi’s mandolin concertos. The Largo of this concerto has lutenist Hopkinson Smith accompany Pine along with a unisono violin part.  To say that the whole disc has been rendered con amore merely states the obvious.

—Gary Lemco

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