Vivaldi was not a cellist per se, but he may have learned the technique and soul of the instrument via Venetian Tomaso Albinoni, whose Opp. 2 and 5 use brilliant passagework, rapid scales, and lyrical melodic writing. Altogether, Vivaldi composed around 28 concertos, and he was still involved in the genre at the time of his death in 1741. Virtually every one of the concertos recorded here (15-17 April 2005) conforms to the three-movement format, utilizing four or even five ritornelli, repetitions of the main motif. The middle movements tend to be expressive adagios largos and one siciliana (RV 415). The last movements can be strikingly energetic, even furioso, a virtuoso showpiece, likely for one of Vivaldi’s star instrumentalists–like Paolina or Santina, each a pupil of Vandini–from the Ospedale della Pieta.
While the opening movements offer a countersubject or at least a middle movement in a contrasting key, the RV 416 remains singularly Baroque in its homotonal affect. The harpsichord continuo figures in the texture of the slow movements and as an obbligato in the opening movements, as in the singular double concerto, RV 531. For the high tessitura in two of Vivaldi’s concertos, RV 415 and RV 418, Mr. Cohen uses a piccolo cello that also permits easier access to broken-chord passages.
Most striking is the c. 1720 Concerto for 2 Cellos–the only one in Vivaldi’s catalogue–with its haunting middle movement in the style of a (church) trio sonata. The last movement see-saws quite literally between the two instrumentalists and the concertino/ripieno division of forces, a rich, resounding brew. Highly contrapuntal, the C Minor Concerto, RV 401 makes an immediate impression of heavy seriousness. Its unity of affect could be attributed to church performance. The second violin and viola parts double each other, which along with the martial tenor of the piece, make it quite sonically engaging. The last movement has the power of a concerto grosso with cello obbligato, reminiscent of The Four Seasons. Lovely, extensive, crisp, melodic lines from The King’s Consort strings.
The G Minor, RV 417 conveys a spatial largesse, while the middle movement is a true sonata da camera for cello and harpsichord. Heavy, Lombardic rhythms for the finale, hinting once or twice of the famous Concerto for 2 Trumpets, RV 537. The A Minor Concerto, RV 418 has a sophisticated orchestral accompaniment and highly expressive quality that points to C.P.E. Bach. The Largo is in stile brise–broken style–a quite chromatic series of steps and long notes–that frames the solo cello in its own halo. Finally, the spurious Concerto in G Major, RV 415, which among other devices, employs a fugue in alle breve meter that stands unique in Vivaldi’s normal catalogue. The 12/8 slow meter of the second movement is called a Sicilian dance, but the title is not the composer’s. Still, even if merely a good imitation of Vivaldi’s style, the work stands up as a delightful musical excursion. As for Mr. Cohen, he is a pupil of Kirschbaum, Isserlis, Carr, and Bylsma, pedigree enough; and this album makes a sterling debut in my book.
— Gary Lemco