... if all you've heard are the genteel performances of "early Early Music" ensembles, chiefly British and conducted by Britons Marriner, Hogwood, Pinnock, McGegan, inter alia. Those performances were certainly pleasant and proficient though too cautious for the Red Priest. You could certainly have done worse; there are still abominations being marketed, blunderbuss late-romantic symphony orchestras conducted by Heldenwallop heroes, offering Vivaldi tarted up as Bruckner. Unquestionably the worst of those was Herbert von Karajan - Vivaldi - The Four Seasons / Von Karajan, Mutter, Berlin Philharmonic or Vivaldi Concerti L'Amoroso / La Notte / Alla Rustica - whose interpretation of Vivaldi is heavier than an "all you can eat" spaghetti bowl at The Olive Garden.
Vivaldi wants aerial fireworks, not siege cannonades. No amount of virtuosity or flamboyance is too much for Vivaldi's concerti, as long as that virtuosity is idiomatic, historically informed in Baroque styles and technique. And these days, Vivaldi belongs to his countrymen; Italian and Franco-Italian ensembles like Modo Antiquo are performing Vivaldi unapologetically, as a major composer rather than as car-radio pops.
The first selection on this CD -- il Concerto in re minore per flauto traversiere, archi e basso continuo -- demonstrates the essential superiority of period Baroque instruments for interpreting Baroque music. Alexis Kossenko's traverso flute is a copy of an instrument from 1740. It's not a predecessor of the modern silver flute; it's a perfect instrument of its own species. It has a gorgeous feminine voice, unlike the stridency of the modern flute, and the vocal quality of Kossenko's inflections and articulation could NOT be matched by that modern flute. Would such a flute serve well in a modern symphonic orchestra? Of course not! But the converse is equally true; no modern key-heavy flute could possibly play Vivaldi with such suave fury.
There are three other instrumental works on the CD - a concerto and two sonatas for 'violino principale' - played on a Baroque violin made in 1658 by Jacobus Stainer. Perhaps the differences in timbre and touch are not so extreme between Baroque and post-Romantic violins as between baroque and modern flutes, but they are critical to the blend of vigor and delicacy which you'll hear in the fiddling of Anton Steck.
Soprano Ann Hallenberg (yes, I know she's not Italian) is one of the super-stars of current European opera, singing with Bill Christie, Alan Curtis, John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, Christophe Rousset, and Emmanuelle Haïm (the giants of contemporary conductors) as well as the Italians Riccardo Muti, Fabio Biondi, and Federico Maria Sardelli. Her repertoire extends from Monteverdi to Mahler, but her superbly focused technique is patently the result of her mastery of "historically informed performance practices" (HIPP) What she brings to the five Vivaldi arias on this CD is her emotionally vibrant tone combined with impeccably expressive 'athleticism' in her pyrotechnical ornamentation.
These concertos and arias have been recently re-discovered in archives in Belgium, Scotland, and Italy, adding marvels to the enormous catalogue of Vivaldi's later compositions, yet musicologists suppose that still more discoveries are possible. The "Vivaldi Edition" being issued by Naïve is one of the worthiest musical enterprises of our fledgling 21st Century and Third Millennium. You truly haven't heard Vivaldi until you've heard:
Ensemble Matheus - Vivaldi: La verità in cimento (Vivaldi Edition)
Academia Montis Regalis - Vivaldi Mottetti
Accademia Bizantina - Vivaldi: Arie ritrovate (Vivaldi Edition)
L'Aura Soave Cremona - Vivaldi: Concerti per fagotto I (Vivaldi Edition)
Concerto Italiano - Vivaldi: Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine (Vivaldi Edition)
Europa Galante - Vivaldi: Concerti per viola d'amore
Modo Antiquo - Vivaldi: Concerti per violino, II - "Di Sfida" (Vivaldi Edition)
Each of these ensembles has recorded "Vivaldi like you've never heard" if you've been wallowing in the "Heulen und Bellen" of overstuffed orchestrations and outmoded Romanticism.