Antonio VIVALDI. Concerti per violino IX “Le nuove vie”—Concerto Italiano, Boris Begelman, violin solo, dir. Rinaldo Alessandrini—Naïve OP 7258—1 hour 14 min— ****:
The Naïve Classics Vivaldi series continues with a new soloist showcasing Boris Begelman with a now familiar band. Begelman is Russian by birth and studied at the Alessandro Scarlatti Conservatory in Palermo, Italy. While perhaps a fresh name to some, he’s already featured in a number of albums, including a release of Bach’s sonatas and partitas entitled Sei solo. The concertos on this disc include:
- RV 283 in F
- RV 365 in B-flat
- RV 194 in C
- RV 211 in D
- RV 346 in A
- RV 281 in E minor
The liner notes speak of Vivaldi’s need, after 1725, of finding a new voice. These concertos showcase some of Vivaldi’s new thinking, as it were, in modernizing his style. When taking notice of Vivaldi’s structural writing, at least in terms of the outer fast movements, I am reminded of baroque architecture. The alternation between solo episodes and ritornellos are, to me, in alignment with the large scale forms of big buildings, whether they are palazzos or churches. Some of Vivaldi’s figurations for ensemble or the solos themselves are the extras that give baroque architecture its special charm. These are the fanciful decorations on the walls, or if you like, the interplay of light and cast shadows.
In terms of newness, one can do no better than listening to the stratospheric notes in the close of the first concerto on disc, RV 283, to see one of Vivaldi’s levers: expanding the gamut of his writing for the soloist with higher positions. As a soloist, Begelman is full-bodied in tone and sounds confident in his stride. The recording leaves nothing to chance in our ability to hear Begelman; in the solo episodes, he’s captured loud and clear.
While there is some fading in the sound when it comes to our distance to the ensemble, I am not displeased at all with the balance achieved by Naïve’s engineers. The divide between soloist and ensemble is consistently applied throughout the recording. It is, however, somewhat different in sonics when we compare these recordings with others of the same material.
As somewhat of a Vivaldi collector, I had all but one of these concertos already in my collection. These by comparison fair well in terms of style and interpretation. WIth headphone listening, especially, you may decide you prefer the acoustical sound of one recording over the other, but with loudspeakers, I found the balance on this recording worked well, promoting the soloist in a way that made appreciating Begelman’s playing easy work.
The E minor concerto speaks to my earlier comments of light and darkness, of architectural details large and small. For me, E minor is Vivaldi’s “night” key. The opening solo is akin to shining light from a flashlight (candle?) in the night inside a large church. Here the distance between Begelman and the ensemble reinforce my illusion. Vivaldi writes his solos relatively high here as well. The middle movement is disappointing to me, from the composer’s lens; Begelman’s tone, however, is quite delicious. The third movement’s big gestures seem to paint the height of a building’s columns; the resulting high portions of the solo seem to speak to their height as well. The playing, as with the other concertos, is confident and strong.
Drawing comparisons is an apt exercise, especially so when you’re making the decision of whether or not you need second or third interpretations of the same works. Comparing is difficult since these don’t come from, say, the same opus. Comparing one edition of L’estro armonico to another is far easier. In my comparisons, I wouldn’t necessarily consistently put Begelman’s interpretations on top. In some cases the contributions from the director or the soloist may have piqued my favor, but if I found in commonalities in Begelman’s approach with Alessandrini, I’d say that Concerto Italiano was most consistent on tempo and pulse. In some cases some rubato is allowed or in the case of at least a few of the movements, it should be encouraged. What disappointed me the most with this recording when comparing it to earlier ones was the conservatism around injecting cadenzas at the conclusion of some of the last solo episodes, or taking some liberties with rubato in the solos. We almost never hear candezas in baroque repertoire, which being fair, really isn’t a criticism of these artists in specific terms. It is, however, something that composers wrote the hooks for and ought to be explored by our historically-informed musicians. While I’d prefer not to sully this recording by stepping on my soapbox about improvisatory exploration in recordings, I think it’s apt to note that while these performances are very strong and engaging, there were missed opportunities to exploit the canvas of Vivaldi’s scores in the same way that has been done with his most famous quartet of concertos, the Four Seasons. The comparisons with other releases of the same concertos revealed different, yet equally satisfying variations on the way both the outer and inner movements could be exploited by both soloist and ensemble. Which is my reminder to you that there is merit in owning different versions of the same music.
For collectors of the Vivaldi edition, this is another strong release. However, in light of what we know about performance practice, these musicians might have gone the extra mile and tapped into the stylistic world of singers who nuance their performances around the meaning of the text. While you may not agree to seeing night-lit architecture in your listening to these concertos, there has to be some basis from which to project affect to the listener. It may be in this case, as it has been for me with others, that performers save these opportunities in live performances. That said, Concerto Italiano and Boris Begelman offer rich and consistent performances that offer you some variance from other historically-informed recordings of the same concertos. Begelman’s power and sound is on display here and if you haven’t heard him, it would be a great place to start.