Tuesday 12 May 2020

Late delights: a group of Vivaldi violin concertos from his final decade show the composer responding with imagination to musical change

OP7078 Vivaldi Concerti per violino VII
Vivaldi Concerti per violino VII 'per il castello'; Alessandro Tampieri, Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone; naive

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A group of Vivaldi's late concertos, sold by the composer in one of his final transactions a month before his death and destined for a Moravian castle

In June 1741 in Vienna, Antonio Vivaldi signed a receipt for 12 Hungarian ducats for the supply of music to Count Vinciguerra Tommaso Collalto, a sinfonia and 15 concertos. A month later the composer was dead. We don't know that much about Vivaldi's final Viennese trip, but this new recording from Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina with soloist Alessandro Tampieri brings together the six surviving concertos of the 15 supplied to Count Collalto for the seventh volume of Vivaldi's violin concertos in the complete Vivaldi edition on naive, the 62nd volume of the edition.

Vivaldi seems to have travelled to Vienna in May 1740 in connection with performances of his operas, unfortunately the sudden death of Emperor Charles VI closed theatres and left Vivaldi at something of a loose end, and rather destitute. The Collalto family, though Venetian, was based at Brtnice Castle in Moravia, the 'castello' referred to in the disc's title, with of course a base in Vienna too, the Palais Collalto where the Count would host seven-year old Mozart's first Viennese performance. The Collalto family's surviving music inventory lists 15 concertos by Vivaldi, presumably the ones bought by the Count. They were not written specifically for the Count though all are late works, presumably sold by Vivaldi to generate much needed income. Rather frustratingly, whilst the Collalto's music inventory survives, not all the music does, alas, and the disc brings together the six surviving concertos from the group presented to Count Collalto.
Brtnice Castle (Photo Jiří Sedláček - Frettie)Brtnice Castle
Brtnice Castle (Photo Jiří Sedláček - Frettie)
The six concertos on the disc are all relatively late works. The Concerto in E flat major RV 257 dates from after the mid-1720s, whilst the remainder, the Concerto in B minor RV 389, the Concerto in B minor RV 390, the Concerto in B flat major RV371, the Concerto in E minor RV 273 and the Concerto in B flat RV367 all date from the mid-1730s. Presumably these were works which Vivaldi was carrying around with him and which could be sold on spec to interested parties such as Count Collalto.

There is definitely no let up in terms of imagination or facility, and from these late concertos (it was nearly 20 years since Vivaldi had written the Four Seasons, and 40 years since the beginning of his career as composer and violinist). In the late concertos can hear Vivaldi responding to the galant style which had been developing in Italy since the 1720s. All the concertos on the disc are in three movements, nominally fast, slow, fast, but within this Vivaldi allows himself a great deal of leeway with imagination when it comes to tempo and style. Whilst the violin writing is a busy as ever and as tricky, there is a sense that the extreme bravura of the early works has moved towards a sense of greater refinement, though these are clearly concertos by Vivaldi.

Faced with such a huge wealth of material (the complete Vivaldi edition is some two thirds of the way through), a degree of weariness might be in order, but these performances have an engaging freshness and elegance to them, and the music is full of such beautifully crafted and imaginative material (like the striking opening to RV 367), we never really tire.  The soloist on the discs, Alessandro Tampieri, is in fact the concert master of the Accademia Bizantina, and was the soloist on their recent disc of Vivaldi's viola d'amore concertos [See Frances Wilson's interview with him on her Cross-Eyed Pianist Blog]

Here Tampieri plays with a lovely fluency and elegance of tone, ornamentation finely spun from the instrumental line, and spins some gorgeously sung lines in the slow movements, such as that of RV 367 and RV390. Throughout his is supported by the Accademia Bizantina with 11 strings, theorbo and directed from the keyboard by Ottavio Dantone.  You often feel that the performers seem to be discovering the music for the first time, and perhaps they were!

Concerto in B minor RV 389
Concerto in E flat major RV 257
Concerto in B flat major RV 371
Concerto in E minor RV 273
Concerto in B flat RV 367
Concerto in B minor RV 390
Alessandro Tampieri (violin)
Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone (director/keyboard)
Recorded from 15 to 18 April 2019 at the Chiesa di San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo (Italy)
naive OP 7078 1CD

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