VIVALDI: Violin Concertos Op. 8, Nos. 5-8 and 10-12 (Andrea Szigetvari/ Bela Banfalvi/ Budapest Strings/ Rudolf Pechan) (Naxos: 8.550189)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 -1741)
Seven Concertos from
Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione Opus 8
Concerto No.5 in E flat major 'La tempest?á di mare'
Concerto No.6 in C major 'Il piacere'
Concerto No.7 in D minor 'Pisendel'
Concerto No.8 in G minor
Concerto No.10 in B flat major 'La caccia' Allegro
Concerto No.11 in D major
Concerto No.12 in C major
Once virtually forgotten, Antonio Vivaldi now enjoys a reputation thatequals the international fame he enjoyed in his heyday. Born in Venice in 1678,the son of a barber who was himself to win distinction as a violinist in theservice of the great basilica of San Marco, which continued the traditions ofthe Gabrielis and Monteverdi, he studied for the priesthood, and was ordainedin 1703. At the same time he established himself as a violinist of remarkableability. A later visitor to Venice was to describe his playing in theopera-house in 1715, his use of high positions so that his fingers almosttouched the bridge of the violin, leaving little room for the bow, and hiscontrapuntal cadenza, a fugue played at great speed. The experience, theobserver added, was too artificial to be enjoyable. Nevertheless Vivaldi wasamong the most famous virtuosi of the day, as well as being a prolific composerof music that won wide favour at home and abroad.
For much of his life Vivaldi was associated with the Ospedale dellaPieta, one of four foundations in Venice for the education of orphan,illegitimate or indigent girls, a select group of whom were trained asmusicians. Venice attracted then, as now, many foreign tourists, and the Pietaand its music long remained a centre of cultural pilgrimage. In 1703 Vivaldi,known as il prete rosso, the red priest, for the inherited colour of his hair,was appointed violin-master to the pupils of the Pieta. The position wassubject to annual renewal by the board of governors, whose voting was notinvariably in Vivaldi's favour, particularly as his reputation and consequentobligations outside the orphanage increased. In 1709 he left the Pieta, to bereinstated in 1711. In 1716 he was removed briefly, to be given, a month later,the title of Maestro de' Concerti, director of instrumental music. A year laterhe left the Pieta for a period of three years spent in Mantua as Maestro diCappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the German noblemanappointed by the Emperor in Vienna as governor of the city.
In 1720 Vivaldi was again in Venice and in 1723 the relationship withthe Pieta was resumed, apparently on a less formal basis. Vivaldi wascommissioned to write two new concertos a month, and to rehearse and directsome of them. The arrangement allowed him to travel, and he was to spend timein Rome and indirectly to seek possible appointment in Paris through dedicationsto Louis XV, which brought no practical result. Vienna seemed to offer more,with the good will of Charles VI, whose inopportune death, when Vivaldiattempted in old age to find employment there, must have proved a veryconsiderable disappointment.
In 1730 there was a visit to Bohemia; in 1735 another appointment tothe Pieta as Maestro de' Concerti, and in 1738 an appearance in Amsterdam,where he led the orchestra at the centenary of the Schouwburg Theatre. By 1740,however, Venice had begun to grow tired of Vivaldi, and shortly after theperformance of concertos specially written as part of a serenata for theentertainment of the young Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony in 1740, hisimpending departure was announced to the governors of the Pieta, who wereasked, and at first refused, to buy some of his concertos.
In 1741 Vivaldi travelled to Vienna, where he arrived in June, and hadtime to sell some of the scores he had brought with him, before succumbing tosome form of stomach inflammation. He died a month to the day after his arrivaland was buried the same day with as little expense as possible. As was remarkedin Venice, he had once been worth 50,000 ducats a year, but through hisextravagance he died in poverty.
Much of Vivaldi's expenditure was presumably in the opera-house. He wasassociated from 1714 with the management of the San Angelo theatre, asecond-rate house which nevertheless began to win a name for decentperformances, whatever its economies in quality and spectacle. Vivaldi is knownto have written some 46 operas, and possibly some 40 more than this; he wasalso involved as composer and entrepreneur in their production in other opera-houses in Italy. It was his work in the opera-house that led to Marcello'ssatirical attack on him in 1720 in Il teatro alIa moda, on the frontispiece ofwhich Aldaviva, alias Vivaldi, is seen as an angel with a fiddle, wearing apriest's hat, standing on the tiller, with one foot raised, as if to beat time.
It has been suggested that "on the fiddle" has similar connotationsin Italian as in English. Vivaldi had his enemies.
Among the various sets of concertos and sonatas published in Vivaldi'slife-time, Il cimento dell'armonia edell'inventione (the contest between harmony and invention or, asGoethe later put it, between Nature and Art) enjoyed by far the widestpopularity. Published in Amsterdam in 1725 the collection included Le quattro stagioni, The Four Seasons, thefirst four of the set, concertos which were to be transcribed for the mostimprobable musical forces, including fifty years later a version of Spring forsolo flute by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ilcimento was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a cousin ofHaydn's later patron, and the dedication makes it clear that some of theconcertos at least, and in particular The Four Seasons, had long been known tothe Count.
The remaining concertos of Opus 8 have a less precise programmaticcontent, or none at all. Concerto No.5, Latempest?á di mare, is one of four such, while Concerto No.6, Il piacere, has a title descriptive onlyof its general mood. Concerto No.7 is inscribed Per Pisendel, written for thewell known German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, who had spent the year 1716in Venice as a pupil of Vivaldi, before returning to his leading position inthe musical life of Dresden. The concerto is one of six that Vivaldi dedicatedto Pisendel, in addition to some half dozen sonatas. Concerto No.10 makes useof a common subject of musical imitation, the hunt, and the last of the setalso exists as an oboe concerto.
The Hungarian violinist Bela Banfalvi was born in Budapest in 1954 andstudied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest under Jozsef Szasz. From 1979 until1982 he was leader of the Hungarian State Orchestra and until 1985 a member ofthe Bartok Quartet, before becoming leader of the Budapest Strings in 1986. Hehas taught at the Liszt Academy since 1977. Banfalvi's career has taken him toa number of countries, with concerts throughout Europe, in Japan and in America.
His recordings include performances with the Bartok Quartet and as a soloist.
The Budapest Strings chamber orchestra was established in 1977 byformer students of the Budapest Liszt Academy of Music under the direction ofthe distinguished cellist Karoly Botvay, who made his earlier career with theBart6k Quartet. The leader of the orchestra is Bela Banfalvi, leader of theHungarian State Symphony Orchestra from 1979 and a member of the Bartok Quartetfrom 1982. The Budapest Strings is among the best of such ensembles in Hungaryand has performed at home and abroad with considerable success with awide-ranging repertoire that inclu