Vivaldi x2 (CD review)

Double Concertos for Horns, Oboes, Violin and Cello, and Oboe and Bassoon. Adrian Chandler, director and violin, La Serenissima. Avie Records AV2392.

First, the good news: There isn't a Four Seasons in sight.

The bad news? There isn't any. As always with director and violinist Adrian Chandler and his period-instrument band La Serenissima ("most serene," as in the nickname for Venice), everything is in perfect order. The ensemble is clean and precise, yet lively and stimulating. "Vivaldi x2" is another outstanding release in La Serenissima's fine catalogue of recordings.

This time out the group's gimmick is to include as many of Vivaldi's concertos as possible written for two primary instruments. These include

Concerto in F, RV 539, for two horns, strings, and continuo
Concerto in D minor, RV 535, for two oboes, strings, and continuo
Concerto in A, RV 546, for violin, cello, strings, and continuo
Concerto in G, RV 545, for oboe, bassoon, strings, and continuo
Concerto in F, RV 538, for two horns, strings, and continuo
Concerto in B flat, RV 547, for violin, cello, strings, and continuo
Concerto in A minor, RV 536, for two oboes, strings, and continuo
Concerto S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B in F, RV 574, for two horns, two oboes, bassoon, violin, cello, strings, and continuo

As each concerto lasts from six to about twelve minutes, it gives the album a total time of over seventy-five minutes. That's close to a full house, the upper limit of a Red Book CD.

Adrian Chandler
Anyway, Chandler and his crew are no namby-pamby HIP ensemble. They attack each line with vigor and enthusiasm. Yet despite their zest for the music making, they are as exacting in their execution as anyone. Take the first concerto, for instance, the Concerto for Two Horns. There's nothing fussy about it; it brims over with life. Still, the slow middle movement shows sensitivity and grace, and then it ends in a note of pure effervescence.

And so it goes. Vivaldi wrote a busload of double concertos, so the eight on this disc are but a small sampling. Perhaps this portends more such material from Chandler and La Serenissima. Let us hope so.

However, if I have any minor quibble about the album, it's one I've had about hundreds of CD's and LP's over the years: The cover art. I'm probably alone in this, but I like looking at a recording's cover art while enjoying the recording's music. When a cover picture conjures up images of the music's content, I'm pleased, as with La Serenissima's "The French Connection" and "A Tale of Two Seasons." However, when it's as dull as the picture of two cute little cars ("x2") on the present black-and-white cover, it might as well be nonexistent. Full-face portraits of an album's primary artist annoy me as well: photos of Alfred Brendel or Herbert von Karajan or whomever; I don't care.

Let me elaborate: Many years ago, Philips released an LP recording of Schubert's "Trout" Quintet by an augmented Beaux Arts Trio. The album featured a painting of an old mill with a water wheel beside a bucolic scene of a running stream. It was beautiful; it inspired one to appreciate the music all the more. Then Philips issued the recording on CD and changed the cover art to some drab, generic abstract fish painting (and later to a trio of jumping fish). When Pentatone re-released the album on SACD, they did likewise, failing to use the original cover art and employing some nondescript water imagery. So I looked on-line for a picture of the original Philips LP artwork, found it, copied it, re-sized it, sharpened it, spruced up the colors, and then printed it out and inserted it in front of the CD booklet. My enjoyment of the music improved.

Simon Fox-Gal produced, recorded, and edited this Vivaldi recording, which he made at Cedars Hall, Wells, Somerset, UK in February 2018. The sound is dynamic, a little close, clear if a tad soft, slightly reverberant, and detailed but never hard-edged or strident. Certainly, the hall is in evidence here, which makes the presentation all the more realistic. There is also a moderate depth to the image, so we get a sense of space as well as breadth, with plenty of air around the instruments. Nicely done.


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

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Meet the Staff

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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa