VIVALDI: Chamber Concertos

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concertos for Recorder

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678, the son of a barberwho later served as a violinist at the great Basilica of SanMarco, where the Gabrielis and then Monteverdi hadpresided. Vivaldi studied for the priesthood and wasordained in 1703. At the same time he won a reputationfor himself as a violinist of phenomenal ability and wasappointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Piet?á. Thislast was one of four such charitable institutions,established for the education of orphan, indigent orillegitimate girls and boasting a particularly fine musicaltradition, which attracted visitors to Venice from othercountries. Here the girls were trained in music, some ofthe more talented continuing to serve there as assistantteachers, earning the dowry necessary for marriage.

Vivaldi's association with the Piet?á continuedintermittently throughout his life, interrupted in 1718when he moved for three years to Mantua as Maestro diCappella da Camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, appointed governor of the city by theEmperor in Vienna. In Venice again, in 1723 Vivaldireturned to the Piet?á under a freer form of contract thatprovided at first for the composition of two newconcertos every month, some of which he would himselfdirect. At the same time he enjoyed a connection withthe theatre, as the composer of some fifty operas, andpossibly many more, and as director and manager. Hefinally left Venice in 1741, travelling to Vienna, wherethere seemed some possibility of furthering his careerunder the imperial patronage of Charles VI, whoserelatively sudden death proved as inopportune forVivaldi as it did for the Habsburg dynasty. Vivaldi diedin Vienna in July, a month to the day from his arrival inthe city, in relative poverty. At one time he had beenworth 50,000 ducats a year, it seemed, but now had littleto show for it, as he arranged for the sale of some of themusic he had brought with him.

In perfecting the newly developing form of theItalian solo concerto Vivaldi played an important part.

He left nearly five hundred concertos. Many of thesewere for his own instrument, the violin, but there wereothers for a variety of solo instruments or for groups ofinstruments. He claimed to be able to compose a newwork quicker than a copyist could write it out, and heclearly coupled immense facility with a remarkablecapacity for variety within the confines of the threemovementform, with its faster outer movementsframing a central slow movement.

Some 22 concertos of Vivaldi survive, scored forvarious instruments and in various sources, with bassocontinuo. Seven of these, here recorded, include therecorder, while two others offer alternativeinstrumentation, suggesting flute or violin as possiblealternatives. The Concerto in G minor, RV 103, is scoredfor recorder, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord continuo,instrumentation particularly effective in this chamberconcerto. The first movement, with the customaryrecurrent ritornello, is followed by a Largo duet forrecorder and oboe over the bassoon and harpsichordaccompaniment. The concerto ends with a rapid finalAllegro.

The Concerto in D major, RV 92, is for recorder andviolin, with the bass line entrusted either to bassoon orcello, here to the latter, which plays a particularly activepart in the opening Allegro. Violin and recorder join in amoving duet in the second movement, markedLarghetto, one instrument following and joining withthe other, as in the final Allegro, with the close imitation,one of the other.

The Concerto in G minor, RV 105, one of fivesurviving chamber concertos in this key, is scored forrecorder, oboe, violin and bassoon, with cello andharpsichord continuo. The Largo is an aria for recorder,with the bassoon alone providing the bass line. The otherinstruments return for the concluding Allegro molto, thebassoon now resuming its active solo r??le.

Scored for the same forces, recorder, oboe, violinand bassoon, with cello and harpsichord continuo, theConcerto in D major, RV 94, opens energetically, withthe violin given the first solo episode, before therecorder moves into prominence. The following Largo isagain given to recorder, violin and bassoon, the lastproviding a bass to the aria of the recorder, while theviolin offers an accompanying broken-chord texture.

For the final Allegro the other instruments return, withthe violin again particularly active and evenstratospheric in a movement of characteristic variety andinvention.

The Concerto in A minor, RV 108, for recorder, twoviolins and cello and harpsichord continuo, gives dueprominence to the first of these instruments in theopening Allegro, with the violins playing a largelyripieno r??le. They introduce the following Largo, withits recorder aria, and the concerto ends with a movementin lively gigue-like figuration.

With recorder, oboe, two violins, and continuosupplied by cello and harpsichord, the Concerto in Cmajor, RV 87, opens with what seems about to be arecorder aria, soon replaced by the vigorous entry of thewhole ensemble, with textures that find a place for thecontrasting of the pair of wind instruments with the twoviolins. The slow movement is for recorder andcontinuo, again in the form of a moving aria. The oboeabruptly breaks the mood with the final Allegro assai,with solo episodes for the two wind instruments, largelyaccompanied by the violins and continuo instruments.

The Concerto in G major, RV 101, for recorder,oboe, violin and bassoon, with cello and harpsichordcontinuo presents the ritornello in initial unanimity,with important solo episodes entrusted to the recorder.

Vivaldi makes use of the whole ensemble in the Largo,for the most part providing a ripieno accompaniment toa recorder aria. The recorder remains prominent in thevirtuoso episodes of the closing Allegro.

Keith Anderson
Disc: 1
Concerto for Recorder, Oboe, Violin and Bassoon in
1 I. Allegro
2 II. Largo
3 III. Allegro
4 I. Allegro
5 II. Larghetto
6 III. Allegro
7 I. Allegro
8 II. Largo
9 III. Allegro molto
10 I. Allegro
11 II. Largo
12 III. Allegro
13 I. Allegro
14 II. Largo
15 III. Allegro
16 I. Allegro
17 II. Largo
18 III. Allegro assai
19 I. Allegro
20 II. Largo
21 III. Allegro
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