After reviewing another album, a new album, of Vivaldi's music on mandolin from Avi Avital on DG, I remembered this older disc of Vivaldi mandolin music from Erato/Virgin Classics, released in 2003. Not that any of the selections on the two albums are the same, but if you like the tone of the mandolin, you might like both albums. More important, although I haven't always cared for Fabio Biondi's recordings with Europa Galante, I loved this one. It is, in fact, one of the best things he's ever done.
Anyway, there was a time a dozen or so years ago that you hardly knew there was a slowdown in the classical music industry if judged by the frequency of recordings from Biondi and his band. He and his period-instrument Europa Galante seemed to issue about a dozen discs a year, most of them covering Vivaldi. I'm kidding, of course, but theses players continue to enjoy a goodly success rate with Baroque releases, their Four Seasons for Opus 111 selling over half a million copies a few years before this one. More power to them.
Here on Erato/Virgin Veritas, Biondi and company present a series of concertos by Vivaldi, several with mandolins and the others with various other instruments. These concertos include the Concerto in G major for 2 mandolines and strings, RV532; Concerto in C major for 2 violini in tromba marina, 2 flauti dritti, 2 madolini, 2 salmoe, and 2 teorbe e violoncello, RV558; Concerto in G minor per violino, 2 flauti dritti, 2 oboi, and fagotto, RV576; Concerto in D major per 2 violini, and 2 celli, RV564; Concerto in G minor per violino solo, 2 pboi, and fagotto, RV 319; Concerto in C major per mandolino, RV425; and Concerto in C major per 3 violini, oboe, 2 flauti dritti, 2 ciole all`inglese, salmoe, 2 celli, 2 cembali, and 2 violini in tromba marina, RV555.
For me the best of the best were the opening and closing concertos: the gentle and persuasive Concerto for 2 Mandolins, RV532, and the robust Concerto in C major, RV555, scored for three violins, two recorders, two viole all'inglese, chalumeau, two cellos, two harpsichords, and two violini in tromba marina. The former, RV532, sometimes called the "Double Mandolin Concerto," presents all the color and nuance of the mandolin in a performance that is at once subtle and invigorating.
I also liked the sound Erato/Virgin provided the ensemble better than I liked what Opus 111 did for them earlier. I thought the Opus 111 acoustic was often too bright and reverberant to the point of obscuring inner detail. But the sound on Erato/Virgin, recorded at the San Giovanni Evangelista church, Parma, Italy in 2001, is quite natural and well balanced. And even though Europa Galante's earlier Opus 111 recordings often featured breakneck interpretations, this time out there is a touch of sonic warmth to the music that nicely complements the warmth of the performances themselves.
If you're a fan of Biondi and Europa Galante or of Vivaldi or of Baroque music in general, you might find a home for this Erato/Virgin disc in your CD collection, especially now that you can find it so easily at such a good price on-line. Then again, to other listeners it may seem like "more of the same." Who knows.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: