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Fanfare Magazine: 42:6 (07-08/2019) 
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Reviewer: Colin Clarke

These fresh, joyous performances from the period instrument Accademia Bizantina of two corpus of works from Vivaldi deserve more attention. It is actually Volume 56 of naïve’s ongoing Vivaldi Edition, and the string concertos disc is the third such; the first two volumes were performed by the Concerto Italiano under Alessandrini. Founded in 1983 in an attempt to transfer the intimacy and unanimity of attack of chamber forces to a larger ensemble, the Accademia Bizantina is a fine group, a model of tight playing and transparent textures.

It is surprising that there are so few competitors for the string concertos, for which one is forced to posit the absence of soloistic glitz and glamour. Yet, a straight run-through of the first disc (just over 66 minutes) is hardly a chore as long as one leaves one’s solo virtuoso showpiece expectations on the doorstep. The idea of the ripieno concerto may not appeal to everyone, but the Accademia Bizantina makes the best possible case for these little jewels. That beacon of early music some decades ago, I Musici, recorded these works and one only need look to Collegium Musicum 90 (Chandos), L’Archicembalo (Tactus), Arte del Suonatori (BIS), Concerto Italiano (Brilliant), and non-period instruments on Naxos from Alberto Martini to see that there is significant competition. Yet the life of the Accademia Bizantina’s performance is enough to convert even the stoniest of hearts, and the sheer presence of the recording helps bolster the vivacity of the experience.

Vivaldi’s string concertos are treated as the living, vibrant, and most of all human music they are. The sheer attack of the strings in the finale of RV 161 is palpable, while Adagio of RV 138 is incredibly dark, especially once one considers the F-Major brightness of the flanking movements. Contrasts are huge. The G-Minor, RV 152, begins with a bang, while the Andante of BWV 152 is an absolute grazioso, quasi-gallant delight. The harmonic adventures offered by the opening Adagio of RV 155 (the only string concerto in four movements, and featuring a solo violin) are remarkable, as is the emotional ground Vivaldi can cover in 2:35 (the duration of the Largo of RV 117) while Accademia Bizantina completely honor the drama of the dramatic silences in the opening Allegro of RV 165. One of the more sophisticated string concertos, RV 142 in F-Major, provides fertile ground; it’s good placement to put this in penultimate position. The final string concerto is nicknamed “Conca” after the instrument we hear (the conchiglia marina, known in German as Wettertrompete, a conch shell fitted with a mouthpiece that Vivaldi encountered in Bohemia, and played here by Lionel Renoux); it is also one of the more dramatic concertos on the disc, occasionally seeming to veer towards the more graphic moments of “The Seasons.”

The shorter second disc presents only five concertos for viola d’amore. These may be the first concertos written for that instrument, posits Ottavio Dantone in his accompanying notes. A source in Ferrara states that Vivaldi was a virtuoso on this instrument that was fitted with 12 strings; the tuning of the upper six varies according to the key of the piece in question. Alessandro Tampieri is clearly master of his instrument, a 1725 Hans Andreas Dörfler; the tuning is impeccable. The sound of the viola d’amore is beautiful and somewhat otherworldly, rich in harmonics and yet somehow simultaneously tissue-delicate. Try the expressive lines of the Largo of RV 394 and the finale of that concerto really to experience the fullness of sound and the chordal freedom available to this instrument. The slow movement of RV 397, with its pizzicato ripieno, is another jewel, while the central movement of RV 393 (although written as a parenthesized Largo in the booklet, it shows on my disc player as Andante) really shows the expressive potential of the solo instrument. The Andante of RV 396, is bonded to its Allegro finale, and tracked with it, implying a two-movement concerto, and yet that delicate Andante is expansive enough, and then some, to occupy a space of its own.

Fabio Biondi provides excellent competition in these concertos with Europa Galante, including on his Erato disc, in addition to the five concertos here, a chamber concerto for viola d’amore, two horns, two oboes, and bassoon in F Major, RV 97, and a concerto for viola d’amore and lute in D Minor, RV 540. Yet the combination provided by Accademia Bizantina over the course of this twofer is mesmerizing.

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