During his own time Antonio Vivaldi was simultaneously admired as a freakish musical genius and dismissed as an eccentric. The red priest scored many successes during his long career and he was much admired by Bach, who transcribed many of his keyboard works. However, by the end of his life Vivaldi was all but forgotten and died a pauper in 1741. It was only with the explosion of Bach studies in the 1940s that Vivaldi was rediscovered through Bach’s transcriptions. It is a revival that is still continuing and new recordings and re-releases are constantly expanding our vision of this great artist.
VIVALDI BOX [Neville Marriner & St Martin in The Fields]
These recordings from the 1970s, including a classic Four Seasons and set of the Stravaganza violin concertos, are undoubtedly still in the top tier of modern instrument recordings. They are now available with a series of other major concertos in an affordable Decca seven – CD box set. Those who prefer the sweet polish of modern performances against the more astringent sound of period instruments can probably do no better than this set. All the soloists are excellent and Marriner brings excitement to the ensemble playing.
CONCERTOS FOR THE EMPEROR [Andrew Manze & The English Consort]
Once you have warmed to the sound of period instruments, their individuality, their surprise and their directness it seems to me that there is no way back. Andrew Manze is one of the best Baroque violinists playing today and his latest offering is a series of newly reconstructed Vivaldi concertos never recorded before. There are some fine pieces on this disc and some dazzling musical display from Manze and his ensemble, particularly the two improvised cadenzas.
CONCERTO E CANTATE DA CAMERA II [Gemma Bertagnolli & L’Astree]
My pick of recent Vivaldi recordings is definitely this latest instalment in L’Astree’s concerto and cantata series. Three concertos are interspersed with three of the red priest’s secular cantatas. This is a thoughtfully chosen selection and the musicianship is enthralling. Gemma Bertagnolli has a beautiful crystalline voice that plays awesomely amongst the high Cs that dot these arias. She fully embodies the lost love and longing that Vivaldi has woven into the texture of the music. The concertos certainly have moments of characteristic Vivaldian energy but they too are in a more meditative key and the rich woody sounds of the bassoon and recorder earth the melodies.