Following up on the release of the “new, extended, improved and upgraded” version of their Vivaldi Edition, originally released as 40 CDs in May of 2011, Brilliant Classics has been issuing smaller “piecemeal” albums that allow listeners to concentrate on their favorite compositions by Antonio Vivaldi, rather than taking in the entire collection, which now runs to 66 CDs. The most recent of these came out this past February, and it offers the entirety of Vivaldi’s Opus 8 on two CDs. Vivaldi published this collection of twelve concertos under the title Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (the contest between harmony and invention).
This collection is probably best known for its first four concertos, since these are known as a group as The Four Seasons. There are also three other concertos that tend to get frequent exposure by virtue of having been given subtitles, the fifth in E-flat major, called “La tempesta di mare” (the sea storm), the sixth in C major, called “Il piacere” (pleasure), and the tenth in B-flat major, called “La caccia” (the hunt), probably the best known of the three. Opus 8 is also distinguished because two of the concertos are scored for solo oboe, rather than solo violin, the ninth in D minor and the twelfth in C major. Those who really know their Vivaldi probably know that the Opus 7 collection of twelve concertos (which does not have a title) also includes two oboe concertos.
The primary ensemble that Brilliant Classics recruited for their second go-round at their Vivaldi Edition is L’Arte dell’Arco; and all of their performances are “originals” for Brilliant, rather than reprints from previous recordings. The group is led by its concertmaster Federico Guglielmo, who is also the soloist in all of the violin concertos. The oboe soloist is Pier Luigi Fabretti.
As a leader Guglielmo brings a freshness to his recordings that comes as close to suggesting spontaneity as one is likely to find in a “studio-based” recording. Much of this derives the the fiery virtuosity he brings to his solo work. Just as important, however, is the sense that his continuo players are actively improvising the upper voices for the bass-line support that they are providing. This is particularly evident in Guglielmo’s decision to include the plucked strings of a theorbo or historical guitar. The performers of those instruments (Ivano Zanenghi alternating with Michele Pasotti on the Opus 8 recording) perform with the same sort of imaginative enthusiasm one might encounter in a rhythm-section guitarist for a jazz combo.
The result is an account of The Four Seasons that is likely to make the attentive listener sit up and take notice, no matter how much (s)he thinks (s)he has “heard it all” where these four concertos are concerned. Then there are the discoveries to be made in the other eight concertos. This includes what happens when Vivaldi shifts his attention from the violin to the oboe, and it is clear that he knows exactly how to assign this instrument its own lexicon of virtuoso tropes. Thus, Guglielmo makes a solid case that Opus 8 deserves to be known and loved for more than its first four concertos.