Tuesday 21 April 2015

Avi Avital - Rock and roll Vivaldi

Avi Avital - Vivaldi - Deutsche Grammophon
Vivaldi concertos;
Avi Avital, Venice Baroque Orchestra; Deutsche Gramophon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 8 2015
Star rating: 3.0

Superstar mandolin playing Avital re-creates Vivaldi's music in his own image

For this new disc on Deutsche Grammophon label the mandolin player Avi Avital is joined by the Venice Baroque Orchestra for a variety of works by Vivaldi including the Mandolin Concerto in C major RV 425. To the concerto designed for the instrument Avital adds three more which are arrangements, the Violin Concerto in A minor RV 356 the Lute Concerto in D major RV 93 and the Violin Concerto in G minor RV 315 (aka Summer from The Four Seasons). Avital also plays the Trio Sonata in C major RV 82 with Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), Ophira Zakai (lute), and Patrick Sepec (cello) and as a bon bouche at the end, we get tenor Juan Diego Florez singing the traditional Venetian song La biondina in gondoletta. All are performed in Avital's own arrangements.

Though the performers all work in the historically informed area, the works on this disc are anything but po-faced historical recreations. Avital is clearly a force of nature and everything on this disc is re-thought and re-created. All performers seem to have been given a freedom to experiment and see what works. Tempi are generally on the upbeat side, with a crispness to articulation but also a delicacy. The mandolin sound works well in the works lovely slow movements, whilst preserving a brightness which enables it to stand out from the other performers.

Avi Avital photo credit Harold Hoffman Deutsche Grammophon
Avi Avital photo credit Harold Hoffman Deutsche Grammophon
Avital plays a modern mandolin, not one recreating those of Vivaldi's day, which probably means Avital has a great deal of scope for variety. Even in the mandolin concerto there are freedoms taken with harpsichord being replaced at times by organ in the continuo. In the Trio Sonata in C major, originally written for violin and lute, Avital takes the violin line with Ophira Zakai playing the lute part. It is clear that the other performers (Zakai, Esfahani and Sepec) all share Avital's sense of lively re-creation. The resulting textures are indeed appealing and can be highly seductive. The disc is a little akin to those of of Red Priest, in that the historical textures are filtered through unashamedly modern sensibilities to create something vibrant and appealing. Juan Diego Florez singing La biondina in gondoleta make a delightful conclusion.

I am not quite certain why we get the Largo from the Flautino concerto in C major RV 443 without the rest of the concerto, though it is undoubtedly lovely with a highly seductive texture, as sustained elements are combined with the plucked textures to produce something which is probably not what Vivaldi wrote, but which is magical.

The CD booklet includes a rather breathless article about Avital's recording of these works, and lots of pictures of him in Venice. There is little information on the works themselves and certainly nothing on the other performers or the personnel of the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

This is not baroque music as we know it Jim, but it has a certain charm and a vibrant enthusiasm. The performances are all superb, the disc would not work if they were not. Avital is clearly a virtuoso on his instrument, and combines this with a strength of personality and charm which comes out in the music, and his collaborators all go on the journey with him. If I have any complaint it is that the insistent brightness of the mandolin's tone rather starts to wear well before the disc's conclusion.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Concerto in A minor RV 356 for violin
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Concerto in D major RV 93 for lute
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Concerto in C major RV425 for mandolin
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Largo from Concerto in C major RV443 for flautino
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Trio Sonata in C major RV 82 for violin and lute
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Concerto in G minor RV 315 'Summer' for violin
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - La biondina in gondoletta
Avi Avital (mandolin)
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
Ophira Zakai (lute)
Patrick Sepec (cello)
Juan Diego Florez (tenor)
Recorded Teatro della Voci, Treviso September/October 2014
Meistersaal, Berlin December 2014 (Trio Sonata)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DG 479 4017 1 CD [51.34]
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