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GRAMOPHONE (11/2023)
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Reviewer :
  Mark Pullinger


The Vivaldi Edition rolls on. Proposed by scholar Alberto Basso, its aim is not to record everything the Red Priest ever wrote but to document on disc all the manuscripts – around 450 works, around 90 per cent of Vivaldi’s autograph manuscripts – housed in the Italian National Library in Turin. What started out in 2001 with a single disc of concerti da camera (on the Opus 111 label) has now reached an incredible Vol 71 (transferring to Naïve from Vol 17), each cover featuring a distinctive Denis Rouvre photograph. According to artistic director Susan Orlando in a recent BBC Radio 3 interview, it is due for completion in 2028 in what will be Vivaldi’s 350th-anniversary year. It’s simply one of the biggest – and most rewarding – classical music recording projects. I’ve collected every issue.


Of the 296 concertos in the Turin collection, 97 are for solo violin. Naïve has distributed them among a number of excellent violinists. This 11th disc is the second to be recorded by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, although they notched up many recordings for Opus 111 and Virgin Veritas from the early 1990s, when the Vivaldi Edition wasn’t even a twinkle in Alberto Basso’s eye.


The six violin concertos here are gathered under the title ‘Per Anna Maria’, referencing one of the most famous instrumentalists at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, for which Vivaldi composed many of his works. Like all the Pietà’s wards, Anna Maria (1696-1782) had no surname, but she first appears in the administrative records in 1712, when Vivaldi bought a violin for her to play. She also played at least six other instruments and in 1737 was promoted to maestra di coro of the institution.


The disc’s title is a trifle misleading. The 24 Vivaldi concertos in her repertory are contained in a volume housed in Venice, although only the solo violin parts have survived. A handful of these were released by Glossa in 2020, a disc of ‘lost concertos for Anna Maria’ reconstructed by Federico Maria Sardelli. Naïve’s collection ‘reconstructs’ her repertory on the basis of concertos she may have premiered. No matter. It’s an entertaining collection containing a couple of crackers.


Biondi makes an immediate impact in the arresting solo opening to the D major Concerto, RV229, his lean sound blending sweet tone and sinew. He displays impish delight in the lively B flat major RV363, nicknamed Il corneto da posta (‘Posthorn’) after its repeated octave leaps; there are moments in the opening movement where Biondi seems to be playing a Wild West hoedown and the bouncing finale gallops along like the famous hunt that closes Autumn from The Four Seasons.


As ever, Europa Galante provide spirited and stylish support to Biondi, the driving motoric rhythm that opens the E flat RV260 being a fine example, or the dramatic, stern tutti frowns in the Adagio, which are broken up by Biondi’s reflective solo line. It’s unfortunate to state in the booklet that the slow movement of the D major RV207 is played ‘tutti pizzicati like a big guitar’ when Europa Galante bow every note! Other versions, such as Federico Guglielmo’s with L’Arte dell’Arco (Brilliant Classics) certainly use pizzicato here.


The C major Concerto, RV179a, is a copy made by Pisendel and published without Vivaldi’s consent. It appears in other versions, notably RV581 in Turin, where the Largo has florid ornamentation written out, presumably in Anna Maria’s own hand. It is included as an appendix, a chance for the listener to connect directly with Vivaldi’s pupil at the end of this very fine disc.

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