LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: L’estro armonico, Op. 3
PERFORMER: L’Arte dell’Arco/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0689(2)
Vivaldi’s first published concerto collection has, for decades, been so popular and thoroughly recorded that you might think there was nothing else to say about it. But Hogwood does. While producing a new edition, he has developed convincing arguments for a dramatically fresh approach.
The set’s title has been variously translated as ‘Musical Fire’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Passion’. But it carries also an implication of ‘whim’, even ‘freakishness’, reflected here in some extravagantly expressive playing. The first slow movement almost speaks to the listener, in the manner of an instrumental recitative; solo cadenza-like passages express emotive rhetoric over long static chords.
No less striking is tone quality: pitch is high, the ‘coristo Veneto’ equal to modern pitch rather than lower so-called ‘Baroque pitch’; the bass line is at 8-foot, without the octave support of double bass or violone; and strings play one-to-a-part from the eight part-books which Vivaldi published, creating many moments when two solo strings are in unison – a cruel test of intonation. Added to these startlingly distinctive effects are a dry acoustic and close recording, all creating a tone so steely and bright that it’s hard to believe these are lightly strung period instruments and delicately balanced bows. Vivaldi organised the 12 concertos in groups of three, for four soloists, for two and for one. Hogwood varies them further, with every possible continuo combination of theorbo, guitar, harpsichord and organ; that for guitar alone (No. 6) is specially striking.
My benchmark remains Pinnock and the English Concert, remarkably fresh 15 years on. But Hogwood’s is a remarkable conception, not to be missed despite reservations about this particular performance. George Pratt