ANTONIO VIVALDI: “Concerti per flauto” = Concerto in G major; Concerto in G minor “La notte”; Concerto “La pastorella” in D major; Concerto in D minor; Concerto in Eb major; Concerto in G minor RV103; Concerto “Il gardellino” in D major – Maurice Steger, recorders/ I Barocchisti/ Diego Fasolis – Harmonia mundi HMC 902190, 76:28, (10/14/14),***1/2:

This very well-played and expansive collection of the flute concerti of Antonio Vivaldi holds special interest on two levels.

First, these works were written for what we now somewhat generically call the “recorder” or Blockflöte in Germany. Not even the wooden, keyless flutes developed somewhat concurrently to the latest of these works was in common use, partly because that instrument could not have negotiated the most technical of these Vivaldi master works.

So, people who really do like the sound of a well-played classical recorder will truly enjoy the artistry of Maurice Steger. He is a gifted artist who has a warm tone on these fairly tricky instruments and a very impressive technique. I have heard but a few examples of this type of repertoire, played mostly by the Danish virtuoso Michala Petri; whose work I really like, but Mr. Steger is another very important and impressive name in this somewhat niche category of classical instrumental music.

Another good reason to pick up this disc is to give another glimpse into the compositional style of Antonio Vivaldi. The “Red Priest” takes a bit of a bum rap with classical musicologists who focus on the lack of harmonic variety in his work and the comparative sameness of his bass patterns and counterpoint that relies on lots of scalar patterns and arpeggios. This is all true as a generalization but I think it is very useful to remember that Vivaldi and a small few others set the stage for a more sophisticated Baroque style; typified by Bach, Handel and Telemann.

There is actually great charm in the music of Vivaldi and an infectious propulsive driving nature to the allegri that I have always found attractive. This set of works is certainly not his best known output (as in The Four Seasons or the choral Gloria) but there really is much to enjoy and his work is deceptively creative.

Even in this set of seven typically short concerti, a couple of the works merit special mention. The Concerto in G minor “La notte” is a somewhat programmatic work with the second and fourth of its atypically configured five movements serving as what Vivaldi considered dreams or apparitions in a “night-time” setting. He does something similar with the more traditionally configured “La Pastorella” wherein each movement depicts folk-dance rhythms as one might find in a countryside villa.

Most readers will have heard the catchy and well known D major “Il gardellino” or ‘Goldfinch’ concerto which has many repetitions and trill-like sections intended to imitate a goldfinch. Additionally, this charming little piece has been transcribed for flutists and even clarinetists of all ages over the years and remains, probably, Vivaldi’s best known wind concerto.

This wonderful compilation will find its most appreciative audience in recorder enthusiasts or fans of Vivaldi. However, I found the whole collection delightful, with outstanding, dedicated performances and excellent sound quality.

—Daniel Coombs