According to Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot, Vivaldi's cello concertos 'tower above' those of his contemporaries. Some of his most inspired compositions feature this instrument - whether as concertos or sonatas. Vivaldi wrote 27 cello concertos in all, and this first Naxos CD of the complete set contains no less than seven of them.
While there are several versions of these concertos on offer, I doubt if there is a better recording than this one or a better soloist to play them than Raphael Wallfisch. (David Watkins is another cellist who can conjure up a captivating and authentically Baroque sound at will.)
Talbot has drawn attention to the fact that in Vivaldi's concertos for 'lower' register instruments - bassoon and cello especially - the orchestration is fuller and more interesting in terms of its greater complexity. In this recording, the City of London Sinfonia offers a multi-dimensional bass, with theorbo, lute, harpsichord and chamber organ to reflect this greater interest, although, frustratingly, the accompanying notes give the barest details of instrumentation. (This is one area where higher priced labels consistently score over Naxos.)
Overall, however, this CD gives outstanding value and some enthralling sounds. (The Concerto in a is a neglected gem and something of a miniature - at 1'38, its last movement is only slightly longer than its sample track on Amazon! It also anticipates modernism in its insistent and repetitive phrase substituting for any recognisable melody.) Finding eminent soloists on budget labels like this makes such CDs frankly unmissable.
This whole four-volume series of Vivaldi cello concerti is uniformly excellent. Vivaldi's writing in the cello concerti is less about the virtuosic fireworks of many of the violin concerti and, while no less demanding on the soloist, seems to me to be more like that in his vocal and choral works. There is plenty of excitement, but also a more melodic and contemplative feel in many places with the slow movements in particular often being very affecting. They are lovely, varied works which are the product of a real master and which give the lie to the jibe about Vivaldi having written the same concerto five hundred times. Full of harmonic and melodic invention, they are, I think, genuinely the work of a great composer.
Raphael Wallfisch, Nicholas Kraemer and the City of London Sinfonia play them superbly. There is a lightness and spring in their step where appropriate and a more intense, almost spiritual feel in places. Wallfisch is a terrific cellist and there is a fine understanding between soloist, conductor and orchestra. With excellent recorded sound by Naxos these are all-round excellent discs and at Naxos's budget price an unmissable bargain. Very warmly recommended.