Thursday 10 October 2019

Will put a smile on your face: Vivaldi's L'estro armonico in new versions from Armoniosa

Vivaldi: L'Estro Armonico - Armoniosa - Reddress
Antonio Vivaldi L'estro armonico, arr. Michele Marchi; Armoniosa; Reddress
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 October 2019
Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)

Lively and engaging new versions of Vivaldi's concertos re-worked for the Armoniosa ensemble

Antonio Vivaldi's L'estro armonico [The harmonic inspiration] is a set of 12 concertos for stringed instruments which Vivaldi published as his Opus 3 in 1711. His previous two publications, Opus 1, and 2, had been collections of sonatas which Vivaldi had published in Venice but for this new set, his first set of concertos to be published, he used an international publisher, Estienne Roger in Amsterdam. The result was to bring Vivaldi's concertos to the attention of a wider international readership. The popularity of the concertos meant that they spawned a wide variety of arrangements and transcriptions, notably those by JS Bach who made harpsichord versions of six of them whilst he was employed in Weimar (Bach would have been 26 when the set was published).

In the spirit of the tradition of transcribing and arranging Vivaldi's L'estro armonico, the Italian ensemble Armoniosa recorded all of them (on the Reddress label, distributed by Sony) in transcriptions by Michele Barchi made for Armoniosa's line up, Michele Barchi (harpsichord), Daniele Ferretti (organ), Francesco Cerrato (violin), Stefano Cerrato (five-string cello), Marco Demaria (cello).  One intriguing feature is that the ensemble play period instruments, at historic pitch (415 Hz, unequal temperament) and so give us a delightful taste of the sort of transcription and arrangement that Vivaldi's contemporaries might have done.
This is a delightful disc, and the concertos are all played with imagination and verve by the players. Barchi's arrangements are very imaginative and we do not feel that we are hearing something which has been reduced (Vivaldi's originals have four violin parts, two viola parts, a cello part and a continuo part), and pop any concerto on and the results are immediately appealing and engaging. And not a little stylish too, this is playing of a high order and Michele Barchi and Francesco Cerrato in particular do not shy away from the cascades of notes required of them, and the way the transcriptions feature the harpsichord makes you aware that Barchi has been listening to Bach's transformation of Vivaldi's concertos into keyboard virtuoso pieces.

Armoniosa (Photo Alessandro Rota)
Armoniosa (Photo Alessandro Rota)
One feature is that the recording uses a fine array of different keyboards, four harpsichords, a virginals and a clavichord, and two different organs, many of which were made by Michele Barchi. The result, with the combination of harpsichord, organ and strings, is to bring a wide variety of timbres and textures to the performances.

The only drawback is partly down to Vivaldi. The concertos were never really designed to be listened to from beginning to end, but as individual ones. Though Vivaldi varies the solo line-up (one, two or four violins), the textures do not vary too much. On this disc, the players are similarly imaginative but it is definitely a disc to dip into, but it will certainly put a smile on your face.

The disc is in fact the first release on Reddress, a new independent Italian label which currently features Armoniosa and Michele Barchi as its artists, and Barchi's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is due out later this year.

Antonio Vivaldi - L'Estro Armonico
Armoniosa - Michele Barchi (harpsichord), Daniele Ferretti (organ), Francesco Cerrato (violin), Stefano Cerrato (five-string cello), Marco Demaria (cello)
Recorded in May 2018, Royal Castle of Govone, Italy
REDDRESS 34-011906 2CDs [49.36, 57.46]
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