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Hyperion Records

CDH55102 - Vivaldi: La Pastorella & other works
(Originally issued on CDA66309)

Recording details: April 1988
Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
Produced by Nicholas Parker
Engineered by Nicholas Parker
Release date: March 2003
Total duration: 56 minutes 41 seconds

'Captivating pieces whose melodic charm, fine craftsmanship and varied tonal palette make them rewarding both to play and hear' (BBC Music Magazine)

'As refreshing a package of out-of-the-way Vivaldi as has recently come my way' (The Magic Flute, USA)

La Pastorella & other works
Allegro  [2'52]
Largo  [1'56]
Allegro  [3'19]
Allegro  [3'33]
Largo  [3'47]
Allegro  [2'31]
Allegro  [2'11]
Largo  [4'12]
Presto  [2'49]
Largo  [2'47]
Allegro assai  [2'26]
Largo  [3'22]
Allegro  [2'27]
Largo cantabile  [3'05]
Allegro molto  [2'00]
Allegro  [3'38]
Largo  [3'08]
Allegro  [3'40]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Vivaldi joined the staff of the Ospedale della Pietà, probably late in 1703, it was as an instrumental teacher—of stringed instruments, primarily, though he would almost certainly have had to supervise wind players too. The Pietà, one of four charitable Venetian orphanages for women, was supported by the state and had a strong musical bias. From contemporary accounts we know that music played a prominent part in the daily curriculum of the Pietà, at least among the figlie di coro, as the musically active members of the orphanage were known. These girls, one French traveller recorded, were ‘trained solely to excel in music. Moreoever they sing like angels and play the violin, the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello and the bassoon; in short, there is no instrument, nowever unwieldy, that can frighten them’.

Between 1711 and 1729 Vivaldi published nine collections of concertos. They are, however, vastly outnumbered by those which remained in manuscript during the composer’s lifetime. By far the greater number of Vivaldi’s concertos are orchestrally based works in which one or more soloists provide contrasting texture with that of a larger body, usually of strings. Substantially different from this normal late-Baroque concerto pattern, on the other hand, are the twenty-two chamber concertos which Vivaldi composed for a variety of instrumental combinations. In these pieces the composer gives all parts other than the continuo an obbligato role but brings them together for the ritornellos. Thus, any given group, ranging in size from three to six players, provides not only the solo element but also the orchestral one. Within the limits imposed by these chamber music resources Vivaldi achieves a rich variety of tonal colours with transparent textures stemming, at least in part, from an informed knowledge of the instruments for which he was writing.

Vivaldi’s chamber concertos cannot be dated with any certainty; nor do we know for whom they were written. Lacking this information we may suppose that he produced them for his pupils at the Pietà, perhaps during the late 1720s and 1730s when, furthermore, a growing interest was being shown in the transverse flute. The first known instance where Vivaldi wrote for this instrument is in his opera Orlando (1727). Although Bach, Telemann and several French composers explored the chamber concerto medium, Italian composers other than Vivaldi appear to have ignored it. In this sphere, as in so many others, Vivaldi combines melodic invention and fine craftsmanship with a beguilingly attractive tonal palette giving each and every one of his chamber concertos its own distinctive, colourful character. The means by which he achieves this are both varied and resourceful.

The opening movement of the Concerto in G minor, RV105, for treble recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo is dominated by busy bassoon figures in the ritornello sections whilst the solo or concertante episodes are shared among all the instruments, singly or in different groups. The middle movement is a gentle dialogue in binary structure for recorder and bassoon without continuo whilst the concluding Allegro, also binary in form, returns to a similar approach to the first with the solo episodes shared amongst the four protagonists.

Two sources for the Concerto in D major, RV95 (‘La Pastorella’), are known. In his autograph score Vivaldi’s instrumentation consists of treble recorder or violin, violin or oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo. On the other hand a set of five manuscript parts in Manchester substitutes a cello obbligato for the bassoon. The outer movements have a sprightly, bucolic character; here, the solo episodes all lie in the domain of the recorder which joins the other instruments for the tuttis. The rhythm of the opening movement, evoking a rustic dance, calls to mind that of the initial Allegro of Vivaldi’s ‘Autumn’ concerto from The Four Seasons. The tender-spirited middle movement for recorder and continuo is in siciliano rhythm whose pastoral associations complement the subtitle of the work. The contrapuntal gigue which concludes the concerto also evokes an Arcadian setting.

The obbligato parts in the Concerto in G minor, RV107, for flute, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo are fairly evenly spread though with a slight emphasis on virtuoso violin figures in the initial movement. The Largo, in the rhythm of a siciliano, also occurs in Vivaldi’s Concerto in B flat for oboe and violin, RV548. The lyrical melody is shared between flute and oboe whilst violin and bassoon provide an accompaniment; the effect is one of Arcadian enchantment. The work concludes with a chaconne built upon an eight-bar ostinato bass. The sequence of variations is imaginatively handled by Vivaldi who introduces several virtuoso flourishes to the instrumental writing. This effective and somewhat haunting music possesses, perhaps, a mildly poignant character.

The opening bars of the Concerto in C major, RV87, for treble recorder, oboe, two violins and continuo are arresting in that the brief Adagio introduction anticipates the main theme of the ensuing Allegro. Vivaldi thrusts his fertile melodic ideas amongst the four concertante parts which function both in a solo capacity and in varying groups. The melody of the slow middle movement is allotted to the recorder with continuo accompaniment. The robust conclusion is built upon a series of upwardly moving scale passages. As in the opening movement, the solo episodes are shared amongst the four melody instruments singly and in groups, though Vivaldi favours the recorder over and above the remaining parts in this instance.

The Trio Sonata in A minor, RV86, for treble recorder, bassoon and continuo is unusual for its instrumentation. Vivaldi has chosen two melody instruments of a disparate character and which speak in widely differing registers. In some of his chamber concertos he used a similar grouping, as for example in RV105, but it is only in this musically well-sustained sonata that he fully explores the ranges and sonorities of the two instruments. In Germany, Telemann similarly paired a treble recorder with a bassoon, but in a full-scale concerto. Vivaldi’s layout is that of the four-movement ‘sonata da chiesa’ but elements of concerto style are present, especially in the structure of the two Allegro movements. In the second of the slow movements the recorder is treated as soloist and is accompanied with broken-chord figures by the bassoon. Most of the writing throughout demands virtuosity from the soloists.

In the outer movements of the Concerto in D major, RV94, for treble recorder, oboe, violin, bassoon and continuo Vivaldi affords pride of place to the violin although the other instruments, notably the recorder, have a solo role to play too. The solo episodes of the first movement are vividly contrasted instrumentally, rhythmically, and melodically. The first belongs solely to the violin whilst in the second the recorder is dominant with oboe and violin interjections. Episode three is shared between violin and recorder, and in episode four the recorder plays a lyrical ‘cantilena’ to the accompaniment of violin arpeggios. The fifth episode highlights the violin once more, but with short tutti interruptions. The binary middle movement is entrusted to the recorder whose expressive melody is accompanied by arpeggio figures on the violin. The concluding movement begins with an energetic violin solo from which a powerful unison tutti develops. As the music progresses so, too, does the virtuoso role of the violin become increasingly apparent.

Nicholas Anderson © 1989

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