Jean-Guihen Queyras, Georg Kallweit – Vivaldi: Cello Concertos (2011)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44.1 kHz | Digital Booklet | 706 MB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz
Among his many famous and beloved concertos, Vivaldi wrote no fewer than twenty-seven for the cello an instrument that at the time was generally consigned to playing basso continuo. With the genuine virtuosi he had available to him at the Ospedale della Pietà, the Prete Rosso played a key role in the emancipation of the cello. On this new CD of Vivaldi concertos, acclaimed cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is supported by the musicians of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in a fascinating program that is further enhanced by a selection of highly expressive Sinfonias by Antonio Caldara.
Composer: Antonio Vivaldi, Antonio Caldara
Performer: Jean-Guihen Queyras
Conductor: Georg Kallweit
Orchestra/Ensemble: Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
At least half a dozen sets of Bach’s solo cello suites later, the one by Jean-Guihen Queyras (see Fanfare 31:4) remains my preferred and recommended version. Thus, it was with special anticipation that I looked forward to receiving the cellist’s latest release of Vivaldi concertos. In the event, it turned out to be the program rather than the performances that disappointed. Vivaldi wrote some of the earliest concertos for cello, a relatively new instrument at the time, and the virtuosic demands he made on the soloist were formidable. For a single cello with string orchestra alone, there are 28 known concertos Queyras could have chosen from in assembling a Vivaldi disc, but instead he gives us only three, his reason being one of the silliest arguments I’ve heard.
Even the most intelligent and articulate of artists have been known to say some breathtakingly unintelligent things in an interview, and Queyras delivers a zinger in his brief booklet exchange with an anonymous interviewer. To the question “How did you plan the program of this album?” the cellist replies, “Vivaldi’s cello concertos have just one little drawback; all of them scrupulously respect the three-movement, fast-slow-fast form. That in no way detracts from their wonderful inventiveness, but it does mean they weren’t intended to be placed back-to-back without any transition. So we’ve interspersed them with other works of very different structures.”
First off, that all of Vivaldi’s cello concertos respect the three-movement, fast-slow-fast form is hardly a drawback. That’s kind of like saying that the unfortunate thing about oranges is that, well, they’re all orange. Virtually by definition, for most of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, practically all concertos—be they for cello, violin, piano, or jew’s harp—were three-movement, fast-slow-fast structures. Likely having evolved from the Italian opera overture and/or sinfonia, that is what a concerto is, and arguing that they shouldn’t be programmed back-to-back because of their form could just as easily be an indictment against programming two Mozart or Beethoven piano concertos back-to-back on the same disc.
Second, and perhaps more to the point, is that the catalog is bulging with just the sort of collections of all-Vivaldi cello concertos that Queyras rejects, one of my favorites, though not on period instruments, being four Naxos volumes with Raphael Wallfisch and the City of London Sinfonia. This new Harmonia Mundi release disappoints because I happen to like Jean-Guihen Queyras, a lot in fact, and I would have preferred to hear more of him in this repertoire.
The disc opens with the three-movement—really more of a tripartite—fast-slow-fast Sinfonia (Overture) to Vivaldi’s opera Dorilla in tempe , technically a melodramma eroico pastorale , first performed in 1726. Like most composers of the period, Vivaldi was not averse to recycling his own music and re-using it in other contexts. So you will immediately recognize the final section of the piece, which lasts all of 36 seconds, as the opening of the “Spring” Concerto from the Four Seasons . Why Queyras believes this fast-slow-fast structure, or the G-Minor Concerto for two solo violins and cello obbligato that follows it on the disc, is any different, structurally , from the solo cello concertos escapes me. The difference is textural, not structural, and perhaps that’s what he meant to say, but it got twisted in the translation. I can understand the logic behind wanting to provide textural variety.
Structural variety does indeed come with Antonio Caldara’s A-Minor Sinfonia, a work in the four-movement da chiesa layout—slow-fast-slow-fast. Caldara (1670–1736) was eight years Vivaldi’s senior. He moved around a lot—from Venice to Mantua, then to Barcelona, back to Italy (Rome), and finally to Vienna. His output is considerable, though probably not as large as Vivaldi’s. In his lifetime and well beyond, Caldara was held in high esteem. Bach copied out a Magnificat by him and Mozart cribbed from some of Caldara’s 600 canons in his K 555, 557, and 562. Even Brahms is known to have possessed and studied a number of Caldara’s canons. Yet today, despite being quite generously represented on record, Caldara no longer occupies a center-stage position among Italian Baroque composers.
Part of the reason may be that though not much older than Vivaldi he was of a more conservative bent, his music being a bit reminiscent of earlier Italian models. Also, though he did write operas and instrumental music, much of his effort was devoted to sacred vocal works in the form of cantatas and oratorios at a time when opera and concerted instrumental music were all the rage. In fact, both sinfonias by which Caldara is represented on the present disc bear sacred subtitle references because they were written for church performance during Holy Week, which also explains why they conform to the chiesa format.
This leaves Vivaldi’s three concertos for solo cello and strings and two oddities, the Concerto in C Major for Strings, RV 114, and the Concerto in E Minor for Cello and Bassoon, RV 409. The oddity of the first piece is that it appears to be in only two very brief movements, but is really one of those tripartite affairs in which the first movement is an Allegro connected to an Adagio , which is then followed by a fast movement marked Ciaccona . This is an unusual arrangement for a concerto, suggesting that the piece may have originally been an opera overture similar to the Dorilla Sinfonia.
The second oddly structured work is the cello/bassoon concerto. Its first movement alternates sections of Adagio and Allegro , while its second movement flips the pattern. Only the last movement is a normal Allegro.
Period-instrument groups today fall into two categories, those that test the limits of historical practice, not to mention our hearing, with ultra-fast tempos, abrasive bowing, marginal intonation, and tangy if not twangy tone; and those that play with such elegance and refinement that, in many cases, it’s really hard to distinguish them from modern-instrument ensembles. The Academy for Ancient Music Berlin falls into the second category. For this recording, the not small band draws upon 18 players from its core constituency of approximately 30. Strings are 5:4:3:2, augmented by bassoon, double bass, harpsichord, and lute. The musicians give new meaning to DADT—don’t ask if they’re playing period instruments and they won’t tell; that’s how rich and vibrant is the sound they produce. In fact, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to learn that one or more of them are current or former members of the Berlin Philharmonic.
As for Queyras, I just wish there were more of him in a solo capacity on this CD. His playing is as phenomenal here as it is in his Bach suites. Beyond his sterling technique, perfect intonation, and gorgeous tone, he has a way of articulating notes and phrases—something I observed about his Bach—that makes the music feel like it’s dancing. There’s a lift and an élan to his bowing that springs the notes right off the page and sends them airborne.
I sincerely hope that Queyras will favor us with more of Vivaldi’s solo cello concertos and not worry about programming them back-to-back. Meanwhile, I consider this disc a tasty appetizer for the entrée to come.
1. I. (Sinfonia in C major, RV 709-Vivaldi)
2. II. Andante
3. III. Allegro
4. I. Allegro (Concerto in G minor, RV 416- Vivaldi)
5. II. Adagio (Largo)
6. III. Allegro
7. I. Grave (Sinfonia no. 12 in A minor – Caldara)
8. II. Allegretto
9. III. Adagio
10. IV. Allegro
11. I. (Cello Concerto in F major, RV 412-Vivaldi)
12. II. Larghetto
13. III. Allegro
14. I. Allegro – (Adagio) (Concerto in C major, RV 114)
15. II. Ciaccona
16. I. Adagio/Allegro molto (Concerto for cello and bassoon in E minor, RV 409)
17. II. Allegro/Adagio
18. III. Allegro
19. I. Allegro -(Adagio e spiccato)- Allegro- (Adagio) (Concerto no. 11 in D minor, RV 565)
20. II. Largo e spiccato
21. III. Allegro
22. I. Allegro non molto (Cello concerto in B minor, RV 424)
23. II. Largo
24. III. Allegro
25. I. Adagio- Allegretto (Sinfonia no. 6 in G minor- Caldara)
26. II. Adagio
27. III. Allegro e spiritoso
28. I. Allegro (Cello Concerto in A minor, RV 419- Vivaldi)
29. II. Andante
30. III. Allegro