“Concerti per Flauto del Signor VIVALDI ‘Giorno e Notte’” = Chamber Concerto in A minor, RV 108; Recorder Concerto in G major, Op. 10, No. 6, RV 437; Concerto for Strings in G minor, RV 157: I. Allegro; Recorder Concerto in C major, RV 443; Concerto for Strings in G minor, RV 156: II. Adagio; Recorder Concerto in D major, Op. 10, No. 3, RV 428, "Il gardellino"; Recorder Concerto in G minor, Op. 10, No. 2, RV 439, "La notte" – Conrad Steinmann, recorders / Chiara Banchini and Stefanie Pfister, violins/ David Courvoisier, viola/ Gaetano Nasillo, cello/ Michael Chanu, double-bass / Karl-Ernst Schröder, theorbo/ Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, harspichord – Divox Antiqua, multichannel SACD CDX 70804-6, 48:18 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
This recording of Vivaldi recorder concertos, some famous and some less so, starts and ends a bit eccentrically. When I heard the first few bars, sounding as if recorded in an echo chamber, with the strings and recorder answering one another with only vaguely musical tones—the strings playing scratchy harmonics, the recorder uttering mere burbles—I thought this was going to be one of those “reimaginings” that crossover musicians turn out nowadays. But no, here we have not Vivaldi reimagined but Vivaldi played entirely straight and quite well, except for those few opening and concluding bars, tossed at us without a break. They’re supposed to set the mood for this collection entitled Giorno e Notte (Day and Night), representing (I’m sure) the songs of the feathered harbingers of day. Whether you’ll be entirely happy with the direct segues in and out of Vivaldi’s music will depend on how much of a purist you are. Let me say that I can live without these imitations of our fine feathered friends.
While I’m griping, I’ll issue two other gripes (plus a big one to follow): 1. Playing time is short. 2. Conrad Steinmann’s notes to the recording are a bit opaque for the nonspecialist. For example, Steinmann conjectures that in Vivaldi’s arguably most famous recorder concerto, RV 443, titled Concerto per flautino, the composer specified a soprano rather than a sopranino recorder because “Vivaldi demands that the strings and continuo instruments play a fourth lower than notated.” For the slow movement, Steinmann switches to a smaller instrument in d’’, as he writes, “in order to reinforce Vivaldi’s roots in the musical practices of his immediate predecessors who, moreover, were still familiar with the usage of transposing a fourth, which originated in the late Renaissance.” I’m sure that recorder players and Baroque music specialists won’t be as lost as I am, but these notes are not written with the average music lover in mind.
However, the playing is anything but drily academic, and since this is some of Vivaldi’s most colorfully atmospheric music, my gripes here turn to praise. The program is nicely thought out: besides the popular concerto mentioned above, Steinmann includes two other Vivaldi favorites: RV 428, “Il gardellino” (“The Goldfinch”), and RV 439, “La notte” (“The Night”). Of course, these pieces expand on our album title, Day and Night, as do the excerpts from the concertos for strings alone, RV 156 and 157. Their dark coloration and melancholy mood seem to mark them as nocturnes, especially surrounded as they are by their sunshiny, major-key companions, the Recorder Concertos RV 437 and 443. So this is a program of varied moods and pictorial vividness.
Steinmann’s playing is often pretty astounding, especially in RV 443, where he elides notes with such liquid grace as to seem to defy the abilities of lungs and fingers. His accompanists supply a spirited ground for his flights of dexterity. They play with the energy and panache of Europa Galante, who helped me hear Vivaldi in a whole new way, but without the near-brutality of some of the Italian group’s attacks in ripieno passages. In sum, I’m very pleased with the approach on this Divox disc. And the music always takes the breath away.
Alas, all is not well in the sound department. The recording, set down in a Swiss church, is too resonant for ultimate clarity and is unkind to both ends of the sonic spectrum, the treble a bit too lively, the bass boomy. Such performances deserve better from the engineering staff.
— Lee Passarella