Antonio VIVALDI.  Concerti per violino VII: “Per il Castello”—Alessandro Tampieri—naïve

by | Nov 19, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Antonio VIVALDI.  Concerti per violino VII: “Per il Castello” (RV 257, 273, 367, 371, 389, 390)—Alessandro Tampieri (violin), Accademia Bizantina, dir. Ottavio Dantone—naïve OP 7078—76:00, ****1/2:

While we associate Antonio Vivaldi with the city of Venice, his last days were spent in some disappointment away from home. After arriving in Vienna to present an opera, the engagements were canceled and there he crossed paths with a count—Count Collalto—who had ties to Venice. Collalto had recently inherited an estate, some might call it a chateau or castle, in present-day Czech Republic (see the property in its modern state here, Hence the title of this seventh installment on naïve classics, the sixty-second for their Vivaldi Edition, references concertos Vivaldi sold to Count Collalto before his death a month later. Modern historians date some of the concertos to have been first written almost a decade before, but as a set, they represent Vivaldi’s evolution of style. Together, these are concertos that in many ways mimic an operatic style, with plenty of interpretive options for drama. And when our ears recognize some familiar Vivaldian patterns, the late composer surprises us with twists or variations that show he’s not intent on relying upon his old tricks.

Accademia Bizantina (AB) is not new to the Vivaldi Edition nor to the world of Vivaldi. Soloist Alessandro Tampieri first played with AB as a fifteen year-old; Tampieri has led the ensemble since 2011 as concertmaster and appears on this disc as soloist.

Director Ottavio Dantone shines in this album on the harpsichord with, at times, florid support as part of the continuo team. His contributions are easily heard through the sound of the ensemble. The sound of his instrument, a Grimaldi copy, is superb, as is the overall sound quality of this album. The clarity and amount of reverb is ideal for this repertoire and the overall effect is a very natural, transparent sound. Tampieri is quite competent in these concertos, although with a few comparisons, there were opportunities, under Dantone’s direction, to further exploit the drama inherent in these works. The ensemble is chamber-sized, but thankfully is not one-per-part.

As a collection, these concertos often exploit the upper register of the violin, which shouldn’t be unexpected by the 1740s. Vivaldi’s writing may not be as modern compared with those by Locatelli, but nevertheless when compared side-by-side to his earlier works, the old patterns and violin writing from this set stands apart. Most notable is the parallel Vivaldi finds with the world of opera. After the slower introduction of the B minor concerto, RV 390, an Allegro non molto follows, to restore the typical Vivaldian pattern of fast-slow-fast, but the writing almost fools us: who will the soloist be? A soprano? A tenor? The star in this case, of course, is a violin, but the anticipation would have been familiar to anyone invested in the operatic scene.

I compared AB’s recording with Tampieri as soloist against two other releases. RV 390 was also recorded by Amandine Beyer with her ensemble, Gli Incogniti, and by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante in a more recent release on Glossa. Beyer and Biondi both push the tempo compared to Dantone’s by a minute and a half. While I believe there is much to admire in Beyer’s playing, her recording was difficult to listen to when comparing it, especially, to Dantone’s. The acoustic space from the Beyer disc smeared her solos to the point of making them difficult to hear. Switching back to the recording by AB was like returning to an old, comfortable chair. Everything had less glare and the whole ensemble came across more clear. The version by Fabio Biondi is imbued with more testosterone: his playing is more aggressive. In the final movement, one that opens with a rollicking pattern, Biondi tends to milk the notes off the page for more drama, as evidenced by his choice in tempo and also by his more strident sound in his violin’s upper range.

The Biondi recording, titled I Concerti dell’addio, shares multiple concertos with Tampieri’s, including RV 367, a concerto for solo violin in B-flat major. Biondi has recorded it twice (first with Concerto Italiano on Tactus), but his later recording is better. In moments across both fast movements, Biondi can sound freer or more organic in his presentation. His ensemble presents the music more dramatically, but not always to a better effect. AB’s sound in this concerto is my preferred choice, and both soloists do well to take advantage of what I will call Vivaldi’s surprises, those moments in repetition or as part of a harmonic sequence that follow in unexpected directions.

My thoughts on the sixty-second volume of the Vivaldi Collection are very positive. From the engineering perspective, it’s a well-made recording and shines against others because of the very natural sound. Accademia Bizantina isn’t fearful about playing delicately or softly, which for Vivaldi, was part of his toolkit for providing dramatic contrasts. The continuo support from harpsichord and lute is well-done, and the stereo separation is palpable in a very fine way when listening with headphones.

Alessandro Tampieri’s performances could be considered safe or too tame for some, at least when heard against the likes of Fabio Biondi. For me, I like both of their approaches and discovering the contrasts across different recordings is always a treat. In context, this album tells the story, perhaps sad, of Vivaldi’s last days, and as a collection, as such, it does well to celebrate the creative gifts of the Red Priest.

—Sebastian Herrera


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