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Fanfare Magazine:  36:1 (09-10/2012) 
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Reviewer:  Raymond Tuttle


I have listed these works under the title by which they will be familiar to most listeners. Note, however, that Naïve’s packaging calls them “Sonate da camera a tre,” and that in 1705, they were published as Suonate da camera a tre, due violone o cembalo, and some CDs use that language instead. Be that as it may, the present disc gives only nine of these works—a second disc would have been needed to complete the set, and I am guessing that we will see it sooner or later.

Even though this is op. 1, these were not, of course, Vivaldi’s first compositions, only his first set of works to be published by the Venetian publisher Giuseppe Sala. They are, in essence, sonatas for two violins and continuo. The “default setting” for the continuo on this recording is cello and/or harpsichord, but L’Estravagante sometimes invites in a theorbo or an organ, presumably to add variety. Given the ensemble’s rather homoge-neous performance style, this is welcome.

I’ve heard these musicians play Buxtehude’s op. 1 and op. 2 sonatas (on the Arts label), and enjoyed those performances immensely. Perhaps it is simplistic of me to think so, but I would have thought that an Italian ensemble would be even more at home with Vivaldi. It turns out that L’Estravagante’s lean and rigorous playing suits Buxtehude better; their Vivaldi is a bit more ascetic than I would like it to be. The playing isn’t dull, but it does lack fancy. The last sonata, which is a set of variations on La Follia, can be exciting as hell. L’Estravagante generates plenty of light, but not so much heat.

The ensemble’s cellist is Francesco Galligioni, and the harpsichordist is Maurizio Salerno. The violinists are Stefano Montanari and Stefano Rossi. The two violinists are separated on this recording far enough to create antiphonal effects, and this was a good idea. The reverberant recording location is perhaps less successful, but it does give the sound more warmth than the “what me, play with vibrato?” playing lends.

As this is part of Naïve’s massive Vivaldi series, the slipcase and booklet cover feature a bizarrely decorated and coiffed model seen from the side, with her mouth gaping threateningly. Apparently many people are bothered by this cover art, but surely it is better than yet another generic painting by Guardi or Canaletto!

I can’t call these readings definitive, although they are certainly bracing and well played. I retain a preference for the old-school violin-playing of Salvatore Accardo and Franco Gulli, with Bruno Canino and Rohan de Saram. Those performances, once available as a two-CD set from Philips, now can be had only as part of a 19-CD box reissued by Newton Classics. In other words, if you’re interested, you might want to try your favorite used CD retailers instead.

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