Notes and Editorial Reviews
VIVALDI L’Estro Armonico: Book 2 • Café Zimmermann • ALPHA 193 (75:30)
As this CD begins, with the introductory Allegro of the first movement of the Concerto No. 11 of this set, one has the impression of yet another early music group with a sharply etched profile of the music, but as the movement progresses—and morphs into the Adagio spiccato and the further, concluding
style="font-style:italic">Allegro—one hears much more in the way of phrasing and excellent changes of dynamics. By the time one reaches the Largo e Spiccato movement, one realizes that Café Zimmermann is indeed one of those very rare historically-informed groups, like Tafelmusik and Fabio Biondi’s Europa Galante, that knows how to play this music with variance of touch and a real enjoyment of what they play. As a result, absolutely nothing on this splendid CD comes across as mechanical or “artificial”-sounding, as if created by MIDI or some other “music”-producing machine.
Concerto follows concerto on this disc as the opening of so many buds into musical flowers, the fragrance of old Italy redolent in the exquisite elegance and at times delicate tracery of this group’s playing. In some of the suspended chords, such as the opening of the Adagio of the Concerto No. 7, Café Zimmermann holds the moment for a brief second or two, a Luftpause, that creates a feeling of anticipation and surprise. We know the chord will be resolved—that was, after all, the prescribed style of the time—but we have no idea how, and when the resolution comes, followed in turn by the joyous Allegro, we are surprised and delighted by what they find in this music.
In fact, I am both happy and very proud of this group that they do not attack the music as if it were “Sing, Sing, Sing” or the latest Hip-Hop tune, as so many early music groups (sad to say, mostly Italian) do nowadays. Assisting them in their presentation of the music is the simply gorgeous recorded sound, which finds a perfect balance between harsh, grating sound and too much ambience. Thus I must give special thanks and praise to recording engineers Aline Blondiau and Hughes Deschaux, particularly to the former who also acted as artistic director and did the mastering of the disc.
Café Zimmermann has rearranged the concertos in this set in order to achieve a better contrast of styles: Nos. 11, 7, 9, then the Cello Concerto in G followed by Nos. 10, 12, the violin-cello concerto in F (“Il Proteo o sia il Mondo al rovescio”), and ending up with No. 8 for two violins. It is in the Cello Concerto that I had my biggest complaint of the disc; the persistent use of straight tone makes the solo instrument sound rather colorless and in fact antithetical to the Italian style in general, but I’ve given up trying to convince these people that consistent straight tone is a modern-day affectation that has nothing to do with how the music was played in the 18th century. (I keep hoping against hope that some day they will all wake up and become heretics of the Religion of Straight Tone—somebody has to!) Fortunately, the overall playing of the group is good enough to overcome this tonal deficiency.
I’m sure that many buyers of this album will want to play it as “brain food” for their babies once Mozart wears thin, or even worse, as musical wallpaper for their next highbrow brunch or dinner party, but if there be any really sensitive musical listeners attending these soirees I’m sure they will gravitate towards listening carefully to Café Zimmermann’s exquisitely shaped and molded performances and away from the small talk of the party. That’s how good this disc is. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a new–and expertly done–recording of these iconic Vivaldi works, known since their first appearance in print under the title L’Estro armonico. In fact, a quick check of the catalog reveals that there really hasn’t ever been a defining digital-era version of Vivaldi’s first published collection of concertos. Christopher Hogwood’s early-1980s period-instrument set for L’Oiseau Lyre might have qualified–the solo strings and ensemble playing are exemplary–but he mucks it up by inserting a very incompatible and unnecessary organ in the continuo for several of the concertos; and the I Musici recordings with so-called “modern” instruments on Philips, which feature a rich and colorful ensemble unity–and, for their era, are models of form and style–seem today a bit tame of tempo and reserved in expressive opportunities.
This set contains concertos Nos. 7-12 from Op. 3 plus two others–RV 414 for cello, and RV 544 for violin and cello–and if only these same forces would record the other six Op. 3 concertos, we will then have something to talk about as a reference. As of now, we only have partial sets worth recommending–including the surprising entry a couple of years ago from Houston-based Mercury Baroque (for the review, click here) that included eight of the 12 concertos. That aside, taking this collection at face value, fans of Vivaldi concertos will not be disappointed, owing as much to the responsive and energetic ensemble as to the extraordinary virtuoso solo violin performances by Pablo Valetti, David Plantier, Mauro Lopes Ferreira, and Nicholas Robinson.
Smartly, the group begins the program not in the set numerical order of the concertos, with the stately, serene opening of No. 7, but rather with the immediately engaging dueling violins that open the justly popular No. 11. There are reams of highlights on this program, but a listener looking for its vibrant heart should look no further than tracks 13, 14, & 15–the Allegro finale of Concerto No. 9 and the first two movements of the Cello Concerto in A minor RV 414. Here is the essence of Vivaldi’s ingenuity and invention in this genre, later complemented by Pablo Valetti’s virtuoso display in the third-movement Allegro of No. 12.
There are countless more delights, including the interplay between violin (Valetti) and cello (Petr Skalka) in the Concerto in F major for violin and cello RV 544 and in the opening Allegro of Op. 3 No. 10–as rhythmically infectious as a Vivaldian concoction can be. But by now, any Vivaldi aficionado looking for a worthy Op. 3 addition to their library will need no further encouragement.
-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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