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Fanfare Magazine: 44:1 (09-10 /2020) 
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Reviewer: Gil French

You may ask, “Having listened to seven bassoon concertos in a row, is it true that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto over and over?” There are moments that sound like mere rotating modulations or études, but, more often than not, Vivaldi’s cleverness and his way with a Largo are quite striking.

Immediately striking is this album’s bizarre engineering. Concerto, RV 497, opens the album with a full-blasting orchestra that sounds so diffuse it seems out of phase. Is the problem excessive resonance in the church venue, or is it excessive artificial resonance? Even the solo bassoon sounds diffuse initially and at times is practically swallowed up by the orchestra. During moments with just the soloist and continuo, however, things are more balanced.

Two more puzzles: Sometimes the changes in volume are so extreme I wonder if the engineers are the ones cranking up the volume. Also, the origins of the large orchestra’s period instruments (5–4–4–3–1 strings plus woodwinds and continuo) are listed (many are contemporary instruments modeled on Baroque originals), yet they’re pitched at 440. The liner notes say nothing about L’Onda Armonica. The only comment on the internet is that it’s an early music ensemble that concentrates on 17th- and 18th-century Italian music.

More puzzling still are Azzolini’s tastes as a conductor. I have no trouble with his emphasizing the extremes between restless and melancholy passages, but his tempo changes in the agitated ones—unexpected retards, exaggerated accelerations, even extended pauses—feel affected, like Stokowski murdering a Tchaikovsky symphony. Concerto in C, RV 476, is a good example of that. Its Largo movement, on the other hand, is so slow and regular that it’s plodding (true in RV 486 as well). The liner notes point out that RV 476’s finale is a Gigue, but, while the bassoon plays staccato, the orchestra is thick, legato, and rhythmically upright without an ounce of “swing,” with a slight retard at the end of each phrase. It sounds Lisztian-Romantic. When the full orchestra plays in RV 481, it really makes a racket, with shouting volume and brusque rhythms bathed in the strings’ fulsome legato. The contrasts (contradictions?) continue in the other concertos as well.

As a bassoonist, Azzolini is highly agile and expressive. His instrument has a woody timbre with a slight nasal edge (sounds like a description found on a wine bottle!) and a full tone from the highest to lowest note. It’s a pity everything else sounds so blowsy.

This album is Volume 5 of his project to record all 39 of Vivaldi’s bassoon concertos for Naïve. Five other volumes have been reviewed in Fanfare; only Volume 4 (39:6) is with the L’Onda Armonica.

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