Vivaldi: Concerti per fagotto II

Vivaldi: Concerti per fagotto II

Sergio Azzolini; L’Aura Soave Cremona/ Diego Cantalupi (Naïve OP 30518)

vivaldi-bassoon-2-naiveVivaldi’s bassoon concertos have been well served on disc, with complete cycles from Daniel Smith and Tamás Benkócs jostling for supremacy with collections from other bassoonists. Of his 37 completed bassoon concertos, I’ve no idea how many reside in the archives of the National University Library of Turin, source and raison d’être for Naïve’s ongoing Vivaldi Edition which celebrated its tenth birthday in 2011. When the first disc of concertos appeared in this series (reviewed in November 2010), I expressed a sincere hope that Sergio Azzolini was to be our guide through the remaining discs from Naïve. It seems that wish has been granted with this second volume from the same artists

For all that Vivaldi is associated with Venice, these concertos don’t appear to be linked at all to the Ospedale della Pietà, as there’s no actual evidence that the instrument was ever played there. In many cases, they seem to have been written under the patronage of Bohemian count Wenzel von Morzin, inspired by his bassoonist Antonín Möser. Now seen as the clown of the orchestra, Vivaldi wrote music of drama and great lyricism for the instrument, although jocularity is also an essential element.

Every note of praise for Azzolini’s first volume of concertos is echoed here. The performances are very much in the modern Italian manner: period instruments played with gusto, a terrific sense of attack pervading outer movements. Azzolini burbles and rasps away merrily, yet there’s poetry aplenty in slow movements, where he displays an unsurpassed palette of tonal colour. L’Aura Soave Cremona, directed from either the theorbo, baroque guitar, archlute or calichon (a six-course lute) by Diego Cantalupi, offers lusty support. Strings and strummed continuo are augmented by either harpsichord or chamber organ, neither used dogmatically, so that occasionally the organ is used in outer movements, such as RV470. Their aggressive style, familiar to followers of Il Giardino Armonico, may not be to all tastes, but I thrill to such exhilarating performances.

One of the most arresting concertos is RV499 in A minor which begins the disc; muscular playing of the ritornello marks out the gripping nature of L’Aura Soave Cremona’s contributions, whose texture is thickened in this concerto by a solo double bass in the outer movements and a second bassoon to join the soloist in the central Largo. Compared with other available recordings, Azzolini isn’t a speed merchant, by any means, but his performance is marked out by its colour and drama. Beside it, the modern instrument efforts, despite perfectly adequate solo playing, sound safe and insipid, an element of autopilot to ensembles, though I liked the added mandolin contribution to Ensemble Respighi accompanying Robert Giaccaglia on Tactus and wasn’t in the least surprised to discover Cantalupi responsible! Azzolini joins in the tuttis, elaborating the bass lines, which other bassoonists avoid. I Musici now sound rather dated and laboured, although their steady tempi enable Klaus Thunemann to add ornamentation. Benkócs on Naxos is similarly hampered by plodding support, while Smith’s nimble playing, supported by Thomas Martin’s double bass, is let down by a tinkling harpsichord-dominated English Chamber Orchestra. The only performance to challenge Azzolini’s comes from Poland, Andrzej Budejko and Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio’s zippy account unfortunately closely recorded in quite a reverberant acoustic.

There is simply no sense of routine or formula about these seven concertos or their performances. Vivaldi offers a brilliant, fiery Presto opening to RV483 in E minor, followed by a tender Larghetto, with exquisite pianissimo playing from Azzolini. L’Aura Soave Cremona are emphatic in their approach; pungent, earthy playing with percussive col legno slaps in the finales of RV496 and 472, for example, with a naughty harpsichord glissando added to the latter.

Michael Talbot contributes excellent booklet notes and Denis Rouvre’s cover photo continues the distinctive, quirky sequence. The recording is on the close side, but with plenty of air around the instruments. One delightful side-effect of the acoustic of the Brescian Church of the Madonna della Formigola is that distant birds are caught tweeting their approval between movements. I add mine and cannot imagine these concertos better played, with such infectious exuberance. I can hardly wait for Azzolini & Co to continue their journey.

Comparisons: Concerto in A minor RV499
Klaus Thunemann/ I Musici (Philips) 2 discs 475 233-2 (1995)
Daniel Smith; English Chamber Orchestra/ Philip Ledger (ASV) CD DCA 971 (1996)
Tamás Benkócs; Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/ Béla Drahos (Naxos) 8.557829 (2005)
Roberto Giaccaglia; Ensemble Respighi/ Federico Ferri (Tactus) TC 672251(2004)
Andrzej Budejko; Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio/ Agnieszka Duczmal (Accord) ACD 056 (1999)

This review was originally published in International Record Review.

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