Vivaldi: La stravaganza Nos 1-6; Concerto in F for violin, cello and strings, RV 544

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: La stravaganza Nos 1-6; Concerto in F for violin, cello and strings, RV 544
PERFORMER: Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 519 3002

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La stravaganza is the title Vivaldi gave to his second printed set of concertos. Its 12 works for violin and strings (Op. 4) were published in about 1714. Fourteen years later, in 1728, five of the Concertos were published in London by John Walsh who retained Vivaldi’s arresting title. It is these pieces that probably prompted Dr Charles Burney to remark that among flashy players, whose chief merit was rapid execution, they occupied the highest place of favour.
 
Broadly speaking, Walsh’s selection for his London publication is judicious, though his omission of the last Concerto in Vivaldi’s set, with its alluring aria variation slow movement, is regrettable. And the Sixth Concerto (RV 291) in Walsh’s set does not feature in Vivaldi’s own Op. 4, though its second movement is almost identical with that of the Third Concerto. The remaining Concerto on the CD stands alone but completes an attractive programme.
 
I wish I could feel a little more enthusiastic about the performances. Fabio Biondi has a lively sense of theatre but he relies too much upon dynamic extremes and exaggerated tempos. It is almost as if he feels that our attention cannot be relied upon for more than a handful of bars at a time.
 
The opening movement of the B flat Concerto provides instances of what I mean and here, too, textures seem opaque and weighted too much in favour of a boisterous basso continuo. Biondi’s own intonation is frequently insecure, though he conveys the lyricism of the slow movements in the F, B flat and A minor Concertos. Vivaldians are unlikely to resist the ‘Walsh’ dimension, but others will prefer Rachel Podger (Channel Classics) who offers all 12 of Vivaldi’s Op. 4. Nicholas Anderson