Almost exactly a month ago I used this site to report on Brilliant Classics’ release of Antonio Vivaldi’s Opus 8 Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (the contest between harmony and invention). This is a collection of twelve violin concertos, best known because the first four concertos in the set are known collectively as The Four Seasons. I noted that this two-CD set was extracted from the 66 CDs in the “new, extended, improved and upgraded” Vivaldi Edition. The performers are the members of L’Arte dell’Arco, playing historical instruments and led by concertmaster Federico Guglielmo, who is also the concerto soloist.
Shortly after I filed that article, Brilliant came out with its next release in this series, the Opus 9 collection of twelve violin concertos published under the title La Cetra, named after a plucked-string instrument similar to the lyre of ancient times. The publication was dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI of the House of Habsburg, which (according to Guglielmo’s notes, translated into English by Kate Singleton, for the accompanying booklet) has this instrument on its coat of arms. Eleven of the concertos are for solo violin with the ninth in the set (in B-flat major) requiring two violins. More interesting is that two of the concertos, the sixth in A major and the twelfth in B minor, require scordatura tuning.
Note that parenthesis about heraldry. There is no sign of a cetra on the coat of arms included on the Wikipedia page for Charles VI! More problematic is that Guglielmo says nothing about the tuning required for the two scordatura concertos. It is not immediately evident from listening alone why alternative tuning would have been necessary in these concertos. On the other hand, even those whose knowledge of Vivaldi is limited to The Four Seasons will recognize that the Largo movement of the fourth concerto in E major includes a remembrance of a “concerto published past.”
Far more important, however, is the attention that Guglielmo has given to plucked strings in this collection. Pizzicato playing arises from time to time, always with a striking alternative sonority under Guglielmo’s direction. In addition, as on most of his other recordings, the continuo is supplemented with either a theorbo or a Baroque guitar. However, the very first sonorities the listener encounters in the first concerto (in C major) is that of a harp (played by Flora Papadopoulos). Thus, like all of Guglielmo’s other releases on Brilliant, these are performances that strive for bringing fresh sonorities to the music of a composer often accused of having written the same concerto many times over. This is an album that definitely deserves attentive listening, even if the booklet does not tell us all we might wish to know!