I was very dubious about whether I needed another version of L'Estro Armonico. There are several excellent recordings already available but I tried this because I loved Café Zimmermann's Bach discs and thought I'd take a risk. I am very glad I did: this is excellent.
L'Estro Armonico is Vivaldi's first published set of twelve violin concertos (now catalogued as his Op.3) and we have here Nos 7-12, plus a cello concerto. They are immensely enjoyable works, full of Vivaldi's melodic and harmonic inventiveness and ranging in mood from the dramatic through the quietly beautiful to the joyously exuberant. However, they do need to be very well played if they are not to begin to sound a bit samey, and here they are played very well indeed.
Café Zimmermann are a chamber ensemble of fifteen excellent players who have the skill, insight and supple responsiveness to make this something quite special. Their approach is generally reasonably restrained, so that although the virtuosic pyrotechnics are there when appropriate, they show real thought and insight into the music and bring out the individual qualities in every movement. I genuinely found that this shed new light for me on some very well-known pieces indeed.
Alpha make their usual excellent job of both the recording and the presentation, and the notes are pretty good, although personally I'd have preferred a little more about the pieces themselves and a little less historical narrative. Nevertheless, this is a terrific disc, and I recommend it very warmly, even to the most jaded of Vivaldi cynics - you might just be surprised.
(I would also very strongly recommend Café Zimmermann's series of Bach Concertos, now available as a box set. I think they're quite brilliant: J.S. Bach: Concertos with Several Instruments Complete Works Vol. I-VI )