Geminiani: Concerto Grosso in D minor, H.143 ‘La Folia’; Vivaldi: Violin Concertos, RV 211, 257, 386 & 583
Nicola Benedetti (violin); Benedetti Baroque Ensemble
Decca 485 1891 49:48 mins
It’s perhaps no surprise that, given her Italian ancestry, Nicola Benedetti should sound so at ease in these concertos by Vivaldi and Geminiani, despite the fact that this is her first recording with a period ensemble – the newly formed Benedetti Baroque Orchestra. Playing with a Baroque bow and a gut-strung ‘Gariel’ Stradivarius of 1717, her sound is stylish, silky and effortless – free of heavy vibrato, exquisitely nuanced.
If the programme is somewhat unbalanced, it nonetheless makes for pleasant listening. The curtain raiser is Geminiani’s fabulous reworking of Corelli’s Sonata Op. 5 No. 12, based on the madcap popular dance ‘La Folia’. To the intimate resources of Corelli’s original, Geminiani adds drama and intensity, and the players respond in full measure.
The spotlight falls on the soloist in the three Vivaldi concertos that follow. Drawing on a hatful of tricks, Benedetti makes her violin sing and dance, rage and lament. Flirtatious exchanges between soloist and ensemble enhance the tonal and textural contrasts of the D major work’s opening movement, while Benedetti pours out its pathos-laden Larghetto in honeyed tones and sparkles in the finale’s virtuosic fireworks. The players bring a real sense of joie de vivre to the E flat major Concerto, over whose gently pulsating rhythms the solo violin skips and warbles and pirouettes. In RV 386, by contrast, the turbulent key of B minor draws vigorous and muscular playing from soloist and ensemble alike. A wistful Andante (from RV 583) makes for a blissful conclusion.