It’s an old gibe that the prolific Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times. And yet, as more of his music enters the mainstream repertoire, it’s becoming increasingly clear just what an outstanding body of work was waiting to be uncovered. Adrian Chandler and the English period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima bring a fresh batch of Vivaldi to our attention in Gods, Emperors and Angels. It’s this week’s Full Rotation.
La Serenissima, named after the city in which he held a teaching post at the Pieta, or orphanage, specializes in the music of Vivaldi and his Italian contemporaries. For over a decade, the ensemble has been demonstrating that there's more to the composer than The Four Seasons. The title of this collection refers to Vivaldi’s remarkable roster of patrons--"nine Highnesses", he proudly noted in a letter--for whom the various concertos here were written. The "angels" were the performers at the orphanage who premiered much of his music.
Opening the album is the fascinating Concerto Conca, RV163, its name referring to the conch shell that in Vivaldi’s time, sailors used as a foghorn and which was believed to have the power to ward off impending storms. The turbulent character of this short three-movement piece seems wholly appropriate. Wind instruments take center stage elsewhere. There's the Concerto in A minor for sopranino recorder, given a virtuosic performance by Pamela Thorby. Peter Whalen is the soloist in an elegant performance of the bassoon concerto, RV500. Both of these players match persuasively in the Sonata for recorder and bassoon, RV 86.
Chandler himself is the dynamic soloist in the Violin Concerto "L’Amoroso," and even in this, one of the more conventional works on the album, the ensemble plays Vivaldi as vividly and freely as jazz.
Antonio Vivaldi: Gods, Emperors and Angels
La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler, violin, director