Vivaldi devotees, especially those seeking novelty, have been supremely well served lately. First, Gli Incognito's 'Les quatre saisons', which featured two exceptional (?)late violin concerti as 'bonus tracks'. Then two CDs from Naïve: New Discoveries, including a beautiful concerto for oboe and cello; and now this one, Il Ballo (The Dance), offering no less than seven violin concerti, most of them unheard since the C18! Not since the advent of Carmignola and his 'Late Violin Concertos' (Sony) has the world of Vivaldi seemed so vibrant.
Olivier Fourés, writing the liner notes, highlights three concerti as being of particular interest - RV210, RV333 and RV310 - while the rest, he thinks, are of 'less stature'. But one of the triumphs of this set is that there is something highly engaging about all of them. Even the supposedly lesser works delight the listener with their quirky charms and their (often dance-like) exuberance. Take, for instance, the Concerto in E, RV268. While possessing, arguably, no great melody or striking rhythmic features, it effortlessly expresses joie de vivre - assisted by charismatic and perceptive playing by soloist Duilio Galfetti, for whom music is clearly more than dots on the page. His willingness to show his own musical personality and wit (in much the same manner as Biondi) certainly adds variety and interest to works which could sound routine in other hands. Likewise the playing of I Barocchisti - equally willing to show creative engagement (the unexpected tremolo effect they conjure up in the closing cadence of RV352's Largo matches the soloist's skittishness in the closing cadence of RV350's final Allegro). The recording, meanwhile, is unimpeachable.
And the 'dance' theme? Does the term really lend coherence to these concerti? In some ways, yes. As Fourés points out in his interesting essay, 'Eighteenth-century Swing', Vivaldi's humble background gave him an intimate knowledge of the more popular music of the time, with its abundant dance rhythms. The whirling final Allegro of RV333 in g has something of the possessed tarantella about it. He could also have said that Vivaldi's first published works were two volumes of violin sonatas, and these sonatas invariably included dance types - usually in two of their four movements (Giga, Sarabande, Allemande, Corrente and Gavotta being the most common, in their Italian forms). So, here and elsewhere, Vivaldi had a dance-beating pulse very much in his blood. It is an inescapable feature of his music generally, not just on this CD, that helps to account for his ever-growing popularity.
All in all, this new recording somehow manages to surpass New Discoveries and, for me, is easily the best volume of Violin Concerti from Naïve to date. Featuring so much first-rate - albeit unknown - music, it is one I would not want to be without for long.