The Strad issue
Reassuringly sane and richly enjoyable Vivaldi that is surprisingly restrained
Fabio Biondi (violin/director) Europa Galante
Vivaldi came of age with his set of 12 concertos op.4, whose title refers to the music’s tantalising fantasy of invention achieved within strict musical parameters. For the first time one can sense in these works’ bracing outer movements the composer who delighted in risqué humour and frivolity, while the introspective slow movements possess an intensity of expression unrivalled in other Italian concertos of this period. Add to that the concertos’ fizzing virtuosity, and this is music that positively thrives on colour and expressive daring.
If Rachel Podger and Arte dei Suonatori (Channel Classics) surf the tide of the music’s bracing invention with lightning reflexes and electrifying spontaneity, Fabio Biondi sounds (unexpectedly) closer to the sparkling, noble restraint of the Academy of St Martin—Neville Marriner, Argo—Decca classic of the mid-1970s. Tempos are never breathless, dynamics are sustained across long phrases rather than fussily micro-inflected, and slow movements are floated with an alluring cantabile that beguiles the senses. There is little sign of the theatrical ‘special effects’ and textural shock tactics that have introduced an element of caricature into Baroque authenticity in recent years. Period-instrument radicals may find these spotlessly engineered performances a shade lacking in semantic daring, although I found them reassuringly sane and richly enjoyable.