Recording of the Month
Vivaldi x2 La Serenissima
‘In the end, it’s the sheer heel-kicking, glad-to-be-alive effervescence of the playing that carries the project’
Double Concertos for Oboes, Horns, Violin and Cello; Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon La Serenissima/ Adrian Chandler (violin) Avie AV2392 75:32 mins
From La tempesta di mare to Il gran mogol, Il gardellino to La note, Vivaldi wasn’t averse to attaching eye-catching titles to some of his concertos. But Adrian Chandler has come up with the enigmatic mother of them all to round off La Serenissima’s latest dalliance with the ‘Red Priest’: Concerto per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B. No one’s totally sure what the letters signify (an abbreviated dedication seems more than likely), but it’s not the only striking thing about RV574. Although the disc’s raison d’être is to explore some of the concertos for two instruments, the grand finale exuberantly brings all Chandler’s soloists together in a concertante extravaganza proudly brandishing two horns, two oboes, bassoon, violin and cello, not to mention the obligatory strings and continuo. It’s a vivacious confection (if not exactly demanding on the ear), and the seven soloists sound positively demob-happy, vying with each other to unleash the sparkiest of interjections.
In the end, though, it’s the sheer heel-kicking, gladto-be-alive, technically unimpeachable effervescence of the playing that carries the project, since the selected double concertos don’t always match the effortless inventiveness of, say, the
L’estro Armonico collection’s celebrated A minor example for two violins (not included)
– a work that caught JS Bach’s ear, eliciting a scintillating transcription for organ. Fruitily
incisive, the horn playing of Anneke Scott and Jocelyn Lightfoot is jaw-droppingly to the point, (especially in RV539 whose high tessitura throws down a particularly challenging gauntlet); and the concertos RV535 and
536 find Rachel Chaplin and Mark Baigent ideally matched, especially when their oboes soulfully entwine in the D minor Concerto’s heartfelt second Largo – an ameliorating corrective to the opening Largo’s stern, implacable quirkiness.
From a purely compositional point of view, the most satisfying works are arguably the two for violin and cello, concertos seemingly cut from a single piece of cloth. They sport Andantes of almost ‘galant’ suppleness – RV547’S is especially ravishing, and a beguiling example of the sensitively imagined continuo realisation that weaves its way throughout the disc as a whole. Pungently energised, the A major Concerto’s opening ritornello snarls purposefully before the violin and cello announce themselves with euphonious celebration ahead of an energetic give and take that corners into joyful snap, crackle and pop in the fiery finale. Plaudits, elsewhere, too, for Peter Whelan whose irrepressible bassoon could lighten up the darkest of rooms and quite steals the show in RV545’S solo showcase inviting oboe to the guest list.
Flawlessly paced – Chandler’s tempos are invariably ‘just so’ – expertly executed, spaciously recorded, the disc consolidates and celebrates the ensemble’s Vivaldian roots as its 25th anniversary year beckons. Quarter of a century or no, La Serenissima’s youthful mojo shines brightly!
PERFORMANCE ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★
Hear excerpts and a discussion of this recording on the monthly BBC Music Magazine Podcast available free on itunes or classical-music.com
Showing their roots: La Serenissima is about to turn 25