Vivaldi flute and recorder concertos
Vivaldi’s contribution to the flute and recorder repertoire is well-known today and shows that he had far more than a passing interest in instruments that supposedly established themselves relatively late in Italy, compared to other leading European nations. The composer’s catalogue tells the true story, and it is worth remembering that this catalogue itself is still not considered complete, given recent musicological discoveries and the dedicated work of primarily Italian Vivaldi scholars committed to hunting down new sources or resolving cases of doubtful attribution. This vast but exciting task has uncovered no fewer than 92 compositions for “flauto”, which in its broadest sense in Italian can refer to different types of recorder, the (transverse) flute or the flageolet. The Concerto, RV 444 which opens this recording is one of a trio of works written for the flautino, or sopranino recorder. It begins in the light-filled key of C major and, with its virtuosic writing, is clearly designed to showcase the extraordinary gifts of the soloist. Interestingly enough, Vivaldi left instructions in the sopranino concerto manuscripts about transposing the music down a fourth, enabling the solo part to be played instead by the descant (soprano) recorder in C. For this recording, however, the artists have opted for the original sopranino versions. There are a number of similarities between RV 444 and the other two sopranino concertos on this recording – RV 443 [7–9] and RV 445 [14–16]: in each case the slow central movement is in the relative minor and notable for its expansive melodic writing, in contrast with the extreme virtuosic demands of the fast outer movements. Even today, music historians continue to underline the pioneering nature of Vivaldi’s Opus 10 – the first printed collection of music by an Italian composer written expressly for the transverse flute. This recording features a performance of “La tempesta di mare”, RV 433 (“The storm at sea”; a reworking of an earlier chamber concerto, RV 98), the concerto with which Vivaldi decided to open his Op.10, published by Le Cène of Amsterdam in 1729. Written in F major, it is a significant work in several respects, starting of course with the programmatic title, which sets the general scene for the work. It is also very demanding for the soloist, F major being a difficult key for the flute. In fact, close analysis of the keys used in Op.10 enables us today to contend that some of its concertos were designed to be performed on the treble (alto) recorder (flauto contralto). Supporting this assertion in the case of RV 433 is the fact that the solo part never goes below the F above middle C (the lowest note possible on a treble recorder, whereas the flute could go down to a D). On this recording, therefore, we hear the recorder in this concerto, whose writing throughout is perfectly idiomatic for the latter instrument. Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus in G minor, RV 608 is one of the masterpieces of his sacred production. Written for solo alto, probably in around 1716, it alternates faster and slower movements – nine in all. On this recording we hear the “Cum dederit” movement , with the voice replaced by an unusual instrument: the chalumeau. A single-reed instrument, this was the predecessor of the clarinet developed by instrument-maker J. Denner at the turn of the eighteenth century. Vivaldi had a particular affinity for the chalumeau – it is worth recalling that during this period it was often paired with the human voice, as heard for example in works by Caldara and Vivaldi himself (it plays a notable role in his oratorio Juditha triumphans). The instrument used here is an alto chalumeau. RV 441 is one of the concertos written specifically for recorder and orchestra, forming a pair with its twin, RV 442. Both have close associations with other music by Vivaldi: RV 441 (a late work, characterised by a certain darkness of tone) is directly related to a violin concerto featuring the same thematic idea, while there are similarities between RV 442 and the “Cum dederit” movement of the Nisi Dominus, as well as thematic links with at least two other vocal works. RV 442 is also closely linked to Vivaldi’s printed set of flute concertos, whose significance has already been noted. It was adapted by the composer for the Op.10 collection, both versions being written in F major, and conjures an atmosphere of great serenity and calm, as suggested by the indication at the head of the score, “Tutti gl’istromenti sordini” (all instruments muted).
by Gabriele Formenti