Avi Avital: Vivaldi (CD review)

Avi Avital, mandolin; Juan Diego Florez, tenor; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord; Ophira Zakai, lute; Patrick Sepec, cello; Venice Baroque Orchestra. DG B0022627-02.

Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital made his debut album a few years ago for Naxos and has followed it up since with several more albums on the DG label. His speciality is music of the Baroque period, particularly the music he has himself transcribed for mandolin from other instruments. On the present album, simply titled Vivaldi, Mr. Avital presents seven selections, six from Italian baroque composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), although only one Vivaldi composed specifically for the mandolin, and one traditional Venetian song. Accompanied by the talented and prolific Venice Baroque Orchestra, the album offers an enjoyable fifty-odd minutes of virtuoso mandolin playing.

The program includes the Concerto in A minor RV 356, originally for violin; the Concerto in D major RV 93, also originally for violin; the Mandolin Concerto in C major RV 425; the Largo from the Concerto in C major RV 443, originally for flautina; the Trio Sonata in C major RV 82, originally for violin and lute; the Concerto in G minor RV 315 "Summer," from The Four Seasons, originally for violin; and the traditional Venetian song "La biondina in gondoleta." In addition to the Venice Baroque Orchestra, various titles include the support of tenor Juan Diego Florez, lutenist Ivano Zanenghi, cellist Daniel Bovo, harpsichordist Lorenzo Feder, and baroque guitarist Fabio Tricomil.

Avital is unquestionably a fine mandolin player, his tone sweet and fluid, his tempos well judged, neither too breakneck fast nor too maddeningly slack, and his natural affinity for the instrument always in evidence in his intonation and flexibility. I mean, the thing about Avital is that he makes Vivaldi fun again. After so many Vivaldi recordings that all sound alike, it's refreshing to hear Avital's mandolin take on things. His transcriptions are a breath of fresh air, even giving new life to that old chestnut "Summer."

Favorites? I must confess to liking all of them. But I especially enjoyed the dreamy Largos in RV 356 and RV 318; the zesty opening Allegro in RV 318; the entire RV 425, which Vivaldi wrote for mandolin and needed little transcription (interestingly, Avital replaces the harpsichord with an organ); the lovely, delicate Trio Sonata; the sweet yet lusty and fanciful spirit Avital brings to the "Summer" concerto (here, you can practically feel the heat rising from the Venetian pavement in the Adagio); and the longing melancholy in the final song, sung by Juan Diego Florez to Avital's accompaniment. But, as I say, they all sound fresh and beautiful.

Avi Avital
If there's any one minor concern I had about the album, it's the way the folks at DG (like most other record companies with rising young artists) are promoting Avital like a rock star. With fully eight photos of the performer in various fashion-model poses and even an article in the accompanying booklet titled "Rocking Vivaldi," I hope the company doesn't wear him out through overexposure and unrelenting hype.

But that's neither here nor there: Avital has shown the talent and proved his worth. Now, let's hope he just doesn't run out of mandolin material to play (although, to be fair, if he keeps doing mandolin transcriptions of Vivaldi's work alone, he'll have enough material to carry him through the next two hundred years).

Producer Sid McLauchlan and engineers Filippo Lanteri and Rainer Maillard recorded the music at Teatro delle Voci, Treviso, Italy and the Meistersaal, Berlin, German (Trio Sonata) in September and October 2014. The engineers have captured the sound of the mandolin pretty well, the instrument very clean, very clear, with excellent transient response, and they have integrated the soloist well within the context of the orchestra. However, the sound is also a bit thin and top heavy, emphasizing the mandolin and strings at the expense of the lower midrange and bass response. So, while the mandolin is not in one's face, there is no mistaking who the star of the show is. I would have appreciated a warmer, stronger orchestral sound, but that's just me, and others may find the sonics nigh well perfect.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa