Yes, it's an economy label, its soloist is no more a household name than the ensemble and it's got a daft picture on the cover. But in most other respects, this CD can be enthusiastically endorsed. Vivaldi's recorder concertos form an attractive if somewhat marginalised part of his output and they are presented here with real zest and imagination. What's more, they are at least played on the right instruments!
The latest research has thrown much-needed light on this facet of Vivaldi's repertoire. In a hugely significant book (Ashton, 2008) Federico Maria Sardelli argues that the three concertos for flautino, two of which are recorded here, were intended for the sopranino recorder - the smallest member of the recorder family - and not, as others have suggested, for the side-blown piccolo, flageolet/flasolet, fife or anything else. His work should end the controversy that has muddied the waters since 1964, when the American musicologist Dale Higbee identified the flautino as a piccolo transverse flute. Erik Bosgraaf's sopranino negotiates the stratospheric and sometimes dizzyingly rapid passages that characterise these works.
The concertos for the more common alto recorder introduce a mellower timbre. Although not such a bravura piece, the Concerto in c, RV443, is probably the most distinguished (and challenging) of them all, while the two programmatic concertos, La notte and Tempesta di mare, both derived from earlier chamber concertos, offer something more akin to The Four Seasons in their suggestion of a narrative. In La notte, the dreams, mysteries and nightmares of night are musically alluded to in one of Vivaldi's most engrossingly original compositions. Cordevento's strings skilfully and eerily evoke the supernatural with scratchy effects resulting from bowing near the bridge.
Vivaldi's virtuosic writing comes to the fore here, with unprecendentedly demanding roles for the 1720s recorder player. (In fact, the original scores reveal that simplifications and amendments had to be made to bring them within the realms of the playable!) Bosgraaf is a match for the daunting technical demands these concertos make. Equally important, however, is his creativity. He plays only two instruments but conjures up more colours than I've yet heard from the recorder - with and without vibrato, hollow and warm, sustained and pulsed, etc.
This Brilliant recording, therefore, has much to recommend it. Even the liner notes are put together with the care and enthusiasm we don't always get from more 'sophisticated' labels. My only reservation concerns texture - but it's quite a major reservation. A pared-down orchestra makes for transparency but robs the recorder concertos of any meaningful distinction from the chamber concertos on which they are based (and which Vivaldi painstakingly re-scored). We never really get the sense of an 'orchestra' in anything but the minimalised and cameral sense of a couple of violins and a viola, and you might well feel that these 'full orchestra' recordings merely duplicate recordings of chamber concertos that you already have.
The best alternative recording at this price is the Naxos CD (2002) which features a full-bodied orchestra and the third concerto for flautino. It too has the correct (sopranino) recorder. But although the playing is accomplished, it is not as colourful or historically informed as here, in my view.