Recorder Concerto on C major, RV444; Flute Concerto, Op. 10 No. 1 in F major, RV433 ‘La tempeste di mare’; Flautino Concerto in C major, RV443; Nisi Dominus – Cum dederit; Recorder Concerto in C minor, RV441; Flute Concerto in F minor, RV445; Concerto in F major, RV442
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini (flute)
Alpha Classics ALPHA 364 56:21 mins
Vivaldi’s understanding of the instruments of the flute family must have been impressive, for in his concertos for sopranino, treble recorder and transverse flute he reveals a remarkable knowledge of their technical strengths and expressive possibilities. Giovanni Antonini provides us with a generous testament to Vivaldi’s ‘flauto’ muse in a programme which includes the three concertos for sopranino recorder and three for treble recorder.
Antonini’s virtuosity is, we might say, literally breathtaking as he dispatches the fast outer movements with agility and stylistic aplomb. For my own sensibilities, though, this comes at a price, since some of his chosen tempos emphasise showmanship at the expense of expression. The first movement of La Tempesta di Mare, RV 433, and the conclusion of the sopranino Concerto, RV 443 provide such instances, though Antonini’s musicianly articulation and his apposite ornaments offer some compensation.
By way of tonal contrast Antonini has introduced the softly spoken sound of an alto chalumeau – a single reed precursor of the clarinet – played by himself, and which replaces the vocal line of the ‘Cum dederit’ aria in Vivaldi’s solo alto setting of the psalm Nisi Dominus, RV 608. The instrument was among those taught at the Ospedale della Pietà with which the composer was closely associated at intervals throughout his life. While the sound of the chalumeau is alluring and the arrangement effective, they are a weak substitute for the human voice.
While readers may wonder at Antonini’s virtuosity and the excellence of the ensemble they may feel, like me, that there is a musical dimension not fully revealed.