Il Giardino Armonico is either the most exciting period-instrument band around, or they play like a bunch of pigs. The line between the two is rather thin, actually, given these players' usual take-no-prisoners approach. But here, with the aristocratic Viktoria Mullova playing the living daylights out of the solo parts in nice, modern, virtuoso fashion, the collaboration has the effect of tempering the group's habitual crudeness with no loss of excitement. In short, this is a stunning program, imaginatively conceived for continuous listening, and containing five absolutely wonderful works, none of which has been done to death in the way that The Four Seasons has.
GivenRead more Mullova's generally serious demeanor, it's only to be expected that she would select some of Vivaldi's more substantial concertos, including the "Grosso Mogul" RV 208, the C major RV 187, and "Il Favorito" RV 277 (written in a nice, dark E minor). Her timbral smoothness makes the greatest possible contrast to the rough vigor of the opening ritornellos, so much so that her initial entrance in RV 208 at the beginning of the disc comes as something of a shock. Still, contrast is what Baroque concerto form is all about, and the beauty and suppleness of her playing makes her interactions with the orchestral ensemble truly memorable. The central recitative of this same concerto and the plangent slow movement of the C major concerto are particularly memorable, but then it's all pretty extraordinary.
Most fascinating of all, perhaps, is the B minor concerto from "L'Estro Armonico", which Bach later turned into his Concerto for 4 Harpsichords. Here, as equals, all four soloists collaborate to raise the music's energy level to amazing heights without ever compromising their intonation or resorting to that "scratch and scrape" period-instrument sound. It's a wonderful performance that reveals the true potential of the authenticity movement to raise overall standards of musicianship in a way that really serves the work, without resorting to pedantry or inartistic theorizing. Exceptional sonics balance the continuo perfectly within the ensemble and Mullova just as ideally against everyone else. It's great to see her making recordings again--telling evidence of how ridiculous it is for the major labels to be dumping their best, most mature artists in favor of the latest "flavor of the month" Wunderkind. I wish Mullova, and her new label Onyx, continued success. [10/12/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Concerto for Violin in C major, RV 187by Antonio Vivaldi Performer:
Viktoria Mullova (Violin)
Il Giardino Armonico
Period: Baroque Written: Venice, Italy