VIVALDI: Cello Concerti in A minor, RV420; in C Major, RV400; in C minor, RV401; in E Flat Major, RV408; in B minor, RV424; in D Major, RV403; in A minor RV418 – Han-Na Chang, Cello/ London Chamber Orchestra/ Christopher Warren-Green – EMI Classics 2347910, 67:41 ****:
Antonio Vivaldi was not simply Venice’s most famous son, but certainly one of the most prolific composers of the Baroque period. Although priesthood became the eventual career path for Venice’s most celebrated musical son when he undertook ordination in 1703, Vivaldi’s reputation as a consummate composer had always preceded that of the altar. Vivaldi was the most original, popular, and influential Italian composer of his time, with an output of more than five hundred concerti, dozens of operas, cantatas and trio sonatas, and still counting as they are being unearthed. It was a curious incident, therefore, when Igor Stravinsky notoriously dismissed Vivaldi’s entire career as: “[someone] who wrote the same concerto four hundred times.” Clearly, this was not only a most unkind comment, but absolutely untrue. In this recording, we come to understand why Stravinsky was faulty in his remark.
Venice during Vivaldi’s time fed on the new and novelties. Venetians always wanted something different, something that would literally shock them (recall that these were the same people who wore and loved masks; they were also a skeptical group). Satisfying the tastes of Venetians for 20-30 years, the music of Vivaldi mirrors a great deal about his character. As a composer, Vivaldi did so without losing his musical integrity, but kept on inventing “new stuff” to satisfy the masses, allowing himself the greatest enjoyment during the process. The current Seven Cello Concerti chosen by Han-Na Chang were written between the late 1700s till the mid-1720s. These compositions are great ways of getting to know this creative aspect of Vivaldi and appreciating him for the music he has left behind.
From the selections featured on this disc, one could safely conclude that Vivaldi had a fairly good knowledge of the cello. He wrote for it with such dexterity and expertise, and his innate feeling for the soul of the instrument had an unrivaled empathy. The general spirit of these pieces was for the passagework to naturally unfold. Similar to glaciers gliding along sea-beds, the listener has his ticket for a back seat, overlooking at the expense of the lyrical dimension, the inventiveness and the diversity in space driven by the naturalness of this music. Rather than equals, these Seven Cello Concerti were different from each other; each showed off a facet of Vivaldi’s character – the passionate, the pensive, and the dramatic. A great deal of this music is hard-driven rhythmically, and at the same time, dreamy, gorgeous, with almost a modern identity in sound. Listen also to the slow movements, like that of the A Minor Concerto RV418, where the beautifully crafted harmony also gives room to great inventiveness for the soloist to explore and expand.
Antonio Vivaldi, for Han-Na Chang, represents the “liveliness of harmony and rhythm.” In a 2008 interview on this disc, she had discussed the reasons behind an album on Vivaldi as her first foray into recordings of Baroque music: “I have always really liked the Baroque repertoire, especially Bach, where the soloist speaks. But Vivaldi is really a new departure. The soloist is more of a group, a continuation with the band. There is a room for inventiveness which I really enjoy and love so much while recording Vivaldi. At the same time, we are going for this very thin, stringy sound that is totally up-to-date. At the same time, it has the room for playfulness between different sections of the orchestra.” To this effect, Ms Chang’s performances in the Concerti are nothing short of phenomenal. The intensity of her bowing is a characteristic of her recordings of the romantic and twentieth century music – the Lalo, the Shostakovich, and the Prokofiev. Her dazzling agility and keen artistic sense truly makes the cello sing under her arms. Under the direction of Christopher Warren-Green, the London Chamber Orchestra lent their superb abilities to the full through all Seven Cello Concerti, with supportive hands coming from all sections of the orchestra that one comes to expect from this ensemble.
One of the highlights in this disc certainly is the A Minor Concerto RV418, where Ms. Chang gives in to her expressive powers. The influence from the late Rostropovich is evident here, being the Korean’s teacher. She displays a warm tone, vivaciousness, and there is a drive forward in the midst of a quest for inwardness and self-reflection. She once described this particular concerto as “[the RV418] is Vivaldi being the most pensive and melancholy. The soloist is improvising on top of a sea of fog, there is this expansive of harmony that is moving along like a glacier. Very slow, mind you, but moving, with a lot of tension. On top of that, I feel myself like a seagull – flying and drifting along.” To do so, Ms. Chang kept her check and balances under a strong sense of rhythmic discipline. The result is miraculous. It shows the creative genius of a composer, who continued to use music to inspire the old and the young beyond his time. Together with the English ensemble, Ms. Chang displays the creative art of Vivaldi with integrity and a musical sensitivity that is hard to dismiss.As part of the OpenDisc project, EMI offers listeners a full range of high quality multimedia to enjoy, simply by popping the compact disc onto a nearby computer, and thus opens the doors to exclusive features. Simply, this is a recording to enjoy for full entertainment, plus exemplary annotations by Michael Talbot.
— Patrick P.L. Lam