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WORKS: Concertos: in A minor, RV356; in D, RV93; in C, RV443 – Largo; Mandolin Concerto in C; Trio Sonata in C, RV82; Concerto in G minor, RV315; Trad: La biondina in gondoleta
PERFORMER: Avi Avital (mandolin), Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Ophira Zakai (lute), Patrick Sepec (cello), Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); Venice Baroque Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: 479 4017


Vivaldi wrote only one concerto for mandolin, in C major, RV425. Soloist Avi Avital gives a sparkling account, with sustaining organ continuo contrasting with the sharply-defined short bow-strokes of orchestral strings and the ‘picking’ of the mandolin. (I’m baffled by the liner notes’ suggestion that, thereby, ‘the work sheds its lingering naivety’.)

For the rest, Avital borrows from other concertos with his own transcriptions. One of the concertos for lute and a trio sonata for lute and violin work well, and the fast figurations of the familiar Violin Concerto in A minor, RV356, also suit transfer from bowing to plucking. Even the slow movement is so florid that gentle plucking creates a quasi-legato flow. Avital’s fluent technique helps – holding notes for absolutely their full length, and with smooth shifts between hand-positions. He’s hard-pressed though in the headlong finale, resorting to appreciable slowing up for the most spectacular of his episodic acrobatics. Summer from The Four Seasons, its sustained tremolos replacing the long-sustained original violin notes, remains admirably calm.

The trio sonata adds up to a curiously splintered texture, plucked mandolin replacing bowed violin, added plucking from lute and harpsichord, and continuo cello bowing assiduously off-the-string. Mahan Esfahani, guest continuo player, is strikingly inventive as he plays through held written chords at cadences. A gondola song with tenor Juan Diego Flórez provides a delightfully contrasting ending to the programme.


George Pratt