Recordings originally made from 1998 thru 2002 have been lavishly repurposed here as a double-CD package bound into a 84-page illustrated book in three languages describing Venice in the time of festival and carnival and Vivaldi’s place in the great merchant city. There were three carnival seasons, which meant activity at the many theaters, playhouses and opera houses. The musically active city kept Vivaldi very busy composing for all occasions. Every foreign music-lover came to Venice to hear the celebrated Vivaldi play, but he was shunned in his own city. His haughty, arrogant and grasping character was at least partly responsible for this.
This collection represents about half of the 27 manuscript Vivaldi cello concertos. Many were created for performance at the Pietá where Vivaldi was music director. The slow movements were inspired by elegiac arias from operas or tried to portray such scenes as moonlight glimmering on the waters of the canals. The fast movements created the image of carnival parties and festivities. There was also the underlying sadness of a society realizing that it was hastening to its end (there had been a financial crunch and the Turks were about to invade). Vivaldi developed his concertos beyond the strictures of Corelli’s concerti grossi. He freed his concertos from the contrapuntal church styles and erased the differences between church instrumental music and chamber music. His works are full of a joyous bustle missing from many of his contemporaries. Perhaps that is why he remains today one of the best-known and most-performed composers of the Italian Baroque period.
The Ensemble Explorations is an ensemble of modest size – only seven players plus solo cellist/director Dieltiens. Yet the effect is generally rich and full, effectively supporting the joyous music. The sonic portrayal of the solo cello couldn’t be improved. Some of the concertos employ the usual harpsichord in the continuo part, while others opt for a small organ. A most worthwhile addition to any early music collection, and a welcome mellow alternative to the many violin-centered Vivaldi iterations.
– John Sunier