Farnace was apparently one of Vivaldi's favorite operas, because he mounted numerous productions in various cities, and wrote six versions of the score, more than of any of his other operas. The conventions of operatic vocal characterizations that came to be standard – higher voices in the sympathetic roles, and lower voices in villainous roles – had not yet been established, and Farnace features a baritone and contralto in the heroic roles, with a soprano as the villain. Soprano Adriana Fernández shines as the wicked Berenice, who is redeemed at the very last minute. She has a full, creamy voice that she deploys appealing agility and warmth. As Tamira, contralto Sara Mingardo sings with power, authority, and deep feeling. In the title role, baritone Furio Zanasi is appropriately heroic, with a rich, refined timbre and the expressive depth to create sympathy for the conflicted protagonist, but he doesn't always have the necessary strength at the bottom of his range. One of his arias, the lyrical and poignant "Gelido in ogni vena," is among the composer's loveliest creations.
Venetian liturgical music of the early 18th century tended to be indistinguishable from opera except that the texts were sacred rather than theatrical, allowing congregations to hear the same kinds of displays of flamboyant virtuosity they could expect in the opera house (and often with the same singers). Vivaldi's two settings of the Gloria, both in D major and both from 1715, are no exceptions to that trend, and offer a spectacular showcase for soloists. This Naïve release, part of its Vivaldi Edition, features the singers and players of Concerto Italiano, led by its founder Rinaldo Alessandrini, and contralto Sara Mingardo. Alessandrini's mastery in this repertoire is evident in the supple elegance of the performances, his keen sense of pacing, and particularly in the nuanced balance of the choral parts.
The Vivaldi Concerto for mandolin and orchestra, RV 425, was an essential component of the 1970s classical LP collection – with the mandolin amped up so loud in order to compete with a large orchestral string section that it sounded like an electric guitar blazing through an arena rock concert. Things have improved a bit since then, but balance between soloists and ensemble has always been a problem with the works featured on this release. The problem has rarely been solved so nicely as it is here. The group of string players used, a fine pan-European set of historical-performance specialists, is not especially small, and lutenist/guitarist/mandolinist Rolf Lislevand is elegant and clean but not arresting on his own.
For most people, Vivaldi completely associated with Venice, but during his lifetime his music was premiered in a variety of places. Six of his operas were performed in Prague at the Sporck Theatre. Of these, two were only ever performed in Prague, Argippo and Alvilda, regina de Goti, and this disc is a recording by Czech forces of the former. The libretto, by Domenico Lalli, had already been set by a variety of composers before Vivaldi used it for Prague in 1730. Unfortunately the score was lost and only the libretto survived. Then in 2006 Czech harpsichordist Ondrej Macek discovered around half the arias of the opera in the library of the counts of Thurn und Taxis.
La stravaganza was Vivaldi's second published set of concertos and was issued sometime between 1712 and 1715. In a characteristically interesting and informative note Michael Talbot explains that La stravaganza or ''Extravagance'' should be understood as wandering outside the boundaries of convention in respect both of melody and harmony. Unlike the earlier L'estro armonico (Op. 3), La stravaganza contains only concertos for solo violin though occasionally, as for example in the seventh concerto Vivaldi brings additional instruments to the fore. Perhaps the set is a little uneven in quality but the finest things here should fire the imagination and arouse the passions of most listeners.
For all the charges of unacceptable schematicism levelled at Vivaldi and his kind, Monica Huggett, as supremely imaginative as well as technically and stylistically accomplished an exponent of the baroque violin as any, demonstrates clearly that this music benefits from the guiding hand of a charismatic interpreter: her delivery of Vivaldi’s exuberant, even manic, inspiration is never less than involving and, in the slow movements, never less than touching.
Nine cello sonatas by Vivaldi have survived. Six of them were published as a set in Paris in about 1740; that set, mistakenly known as the composer's Op. 14, contains the sonatas recorded in this release. The three remaining sonatas come from manuscript collections. All but one of the six works are cast in the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern of movements of the sonata da chiesa. The odd one out, RV46, in fact, retains the four movement sequence but inclines towards the sonata da camera in the use of dance titles. The music of these sonatas is almost consistently interesting, often reaching high points of expressive eloquence, as we find, for example, in the justifiably popular Sonata in E minor, RV40. Christophe Coin brings to life these details in the music with technical assurance and a spirit evidently responsive to its poetic content. Particularly affecting instances of this occur in the third movements of the A minor and the E minor Sonatas where Coin shapes each phrase, lovingly achieving at the same time a beautifully sustained cantabile.
Following his attractive performance of six of Vivaldi's cello sonatas, Christophe Coin has recorded six of the composer's 24 or so concertos for the instrument. Five of these, Michael Talbot tells us in an interesting accompanying note, probably belong to the 1720s while the sixth, the Concerto in G minor (RV416), is evidently a much earlier work. Coin has chosen, if I may use the expression somewhat out of its usual context, six of the best and plays them with virtuosity and an affecting awareness of their lyrical content. That quality, furthermore, is not confined to slow movements but occurs frequently in solo passages of faster ones, too. It would be difficult to single out any one work among the six for particular praise. My own favourite has long been the happily spirited Concerto in G major (RV413) with which Coin ends his programme. Strongly recommended. (Gramophone Magazine)
Naxos intend to record Vivaldi’s entire orchestral corpus, and Raphael Wallfisch’s integral four-disc survey of the 27 cello concertos inaugurates this visionary, though plainly Herculean undertaking. Soloist and orchestra employ modern instruments; director Nicholas Kraemer contends that authentic protocols can be ably met by contemporary ensembles and, in articulation, style and ornamentation, these pristine, engaging readings have little to fear from period practitioners. Wallfisch’s pointed, erudite and spirited playing is supported with enlightened restraint by the CLS, directed from either harpsichord or chamber organ by Kraemer, whose sensitive continuo team merits high praise throughout. Without exception, these Concertos adopt an orthodox fast-slow-fast three-movement format. Wallfisch, dutifully observant in matters of textual fidelity, plays outer movements with verve, energy and lucidity, such that high-register passagework, an omnipresent feature of these works, is enunciated with the pin-sharp focus of Canaletto’s images of 18th-century Venice, which adorn the covers of these issues.