Despite the fact that Vivaldi's bassoon concertos are all the products of his ripe maturity (ie late 1720s on) and despite knowing that he clearly had a special affinity with this instrument (and indeed with another of the bass register - the cello), I was dubious about buying this CD. On the strength of my Naxos bassoon concerto recordings (seldom played) and others (ditto), I had strong reservations. But it is a mistake to dismiss Vivaldi's late work too prematurely. Even those concertos without striking rhythmic or melodic qualities eventually captivate the listener in their own magical way, and I've recently learnt from my mistake of thinking too lightly of the late violin concerto, RV243, once considered slight but, thanks to Carmignola's recent release, I now regard as one of his most sublime works.
The concertos that comprise volume III of Naive's series for bassoon provided the perfect taster for me. There was no concerto listed here with the immediate presence of RV484 or the lyrical charm of RV498, for example. This was an opportunity, therefore, to see if all the hype surrounding Sergio Azzolini and L'Aura Soave Cremona was justified.
It is. The big difference between this and lesser recordings is not so much the quality of the soloist, but the creative engagement of the ensemble as a whole. Azzolini is a more than competent bassoon player. His accompanying essay makes his passion for Vivaldi's work for bassoon very obvious, and so does his playing. But many other bassoon players are hugely competent too. For me, it is the imaginative variation of texture that is the real triumph. If it's true that the bassoon has many arresting solo passages in Vivaldi's non-bassoon concertos, then it is equally true that other instruments have starring roles to play in these works. Creditably, L'Aura Soave Cremona foreground solo violin, and later solo cello. As for Sig. Azzolini, he conjures some beguiling textures from his replica of a 1710 bassoon. In idle moments, I've often wondered what Vivaldi would have made of modern instruments, like the saxophone. Azzolini hints at an answer to such questions in some of his more improvisational and freewheeling 'fantasie', witness the cadenza to RV475, for example, in which both manner and timbre suggest the jazz saxophonist.
This release has scarcely left my CD player for the last fortnight or so, and the other two discs released in this series so far are eagerly awaited. Budget labels are very rarely worth the economy they promise. Like other late Vivaldi concertos, these are works to be savoured, and they deserve sensitive and inspired treatment.