The viola d'amore is an odd instrument. It's an odd instrument today and it was an odd instrument in Vivaldi's day. But Vivaldi was apparently so enamored of the instrument that he wrote eight concertos for it, all of which Rachel Barton Pine plays on the present recording, accompanied by Ars Antigua.
How unusual is the viola d'amore? Usually, it's a special twelve-string viola, played under the chin in the same way as a violin, the performer utilizing six of the strings while the other six, located just below the first six, resonant sympathetically. The instrument produces a rich sound with, as the accompanying booklet tells us, "a shimmering, halo-like tone." Ms. Pine tells us that when she was a teenager the instrument fascinated her, but she really fell in love with it when she had the opportunity to acquire an original-condition, 1774 Nicola Gagliano twelve-string viola d'amore, coincidentally, the top of which she says "was made from the very same tree as the top of my original-condition 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin."
Ms. Pine plays the eight Vivaldi Concerti d'Amore on the aforementioned historical viola, and Ars Antigua ("Ancient Art") attend her on period instruments. On the final concerto (Concerto in D minor, RV540), Hopkinson Smith joins Ms. Pine and the ensemble on lute. Now, if the sound and playing style of a period band concern you, have no fear. They may play in a lively vein with historical accuracy in the forefront, yet they are not a helter-skelter, hell-bent-for-leather group determined to produce the fastest-paced Vivaldi on record. These are charming performances, with musical enjoyment always the primary focus.
No, there is no worry about Ms. Pine or Ars Antigua running through the concertos too fast. If you are one of Ms. Pine's fans, you know that her manner of playing is always warm and smiling. Yet she is never lax; the outer movements are usually allegros, and she ensures that they sound full of energy and excitement. Just not at a breathless pace.
|Rachel Barton Pine|
Anyway, the real question is whether you would be able to tell the difference in the sound of the viola d'amore and a period violin. I think most listeners familiar with a violin could tell. The viola d'amore has a slightly richer, more resonant, more airy sound than a violin. So, what we get here is a virtuoso violinist playing an instrument that more than ever shows off her talents. The player and instrument make beautiful music together.
The Concerto in F major, RV 97 is the sole work in the set that begins slowly, with a wind accompaniment, the full ensemble returning for the finale. It's unusual, to be sure, and quite delightful. The Concerto in A minor, RV 397 is the only work that has the feeling of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, so the listener need have little worry about that matter.
On the final concerto, RV 540, Hopkinson Smith accompanies Ms. Pine on lute. The lute adds a lovely, sensitive contribution to the program, the set going out on a real high note, musically.
Each concerto is around ten minutes long, so because there are eight of them, Cedille have filled out the disc almost to the limit with over seventy-nine minutes of material. You can't say you're not getting your money's worth with so much music, so well played, and so well recorded.
Cedille producer James Ginsburg and ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded the concertos at Nichols Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago in November 2011 and July-August 2014. The sound is remarkably transparent: coherent as an ensemble yet with almost every instrument clearly defined. A light ambient glow highlights the proceedings as well, giving the recording an extremely lifelike feel. The soloist appears well placed among the other players, never too far forward, and the ensemble has a strong dimensional feel without being too wide or too narrow across the sound stage. The frequency response seems quite wide as well, with a welcome sparkle at the high end; and dynamics seem equally wide, so the whole thing comes off like a live performance in your living room.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: