Vivaldi: Concerti per mandolini (CD review)

Also, Concerti con molti strumenti. Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante. Erato/Virgin Veritas 7 243-5-45527-2 4.

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.

Fabio Biondi
The latter work, RV555, is unique for the early eighteenth century in its combination of instruments in such prodigious proportions. The accompanying works tend to sound rather alike to me, but they include five more concertos, these for violin, tromba, recorders, oboes, bassoons, and others. Somehow, they're all quite enjoyable while listening to them but almost instantly forgettable. I mean no disrespect in saying that, however, because it's just me. Most important, Biondi, as violinist and conductor, and his players perform with zest, style, and authority. While on some of their recordings they can sound a little overzealous in regard to tempos and rubato, I heard none of that here, and there is little doubt the results are lovely and exhilarating.

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:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa