RV401 in C minor is one of the most distinctive of Vivaldi’s cello concertos, as well as being among the strongest. For reasons that no one has so far been able to explain, its first violin part is notated throughout in the soprano (C on the lowest line) instead of the treble clef, and the second violin is in permanent unison with the viola. In compensation for the rather lean texture that results, Vivaldi infuses a heavier than usual dose of counterpoint into the music. We encounter here an instance of homotonality, which allows the work to retain to the end the feeling of subdued melancholy introduced right at the start. My guess is that the option for the soprano clef has something to do with a sacred context of performance: as well as being used for recreational purposes, concertos were often performed in churches or theatres.
from notes by Michael Talbot © 2006