At the beginning of this month, Brilliant Classics released its latest collection of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi performed by the members of L’Arte dell’Arco, playing historical instruments and led by concertmaster Federico Guglielmo, who is also soloist on almost all of the concertos. These releases seem to be following the collections that Vivaldi published. There are only twelve of these publications, of which eight consist either exclusively or primarily of violin concertos. All but three of the publications consist of twelve concertos, the other three containing only six. The last dispatch on the site was filed this past August and wrote about Opus 9, given the title La Cetra (the lyre). This month’s release skips over the six flute concertos in Opus 10 and rounds out the series with Opera 11 and 12. Each of these consists of five violin concertos “plus one.” The additional concerto in Opus 11 is for oboe, and the one in Opus 12 has no solo part.
Both of these collections were published in Amsterdam in 1729; and both of them had the same title, 6 Concerti a Violino Principale, Violino Primo e Secondo, Alto, Viola, Organo e Violoncello. Several things are interesting about this shared title. There is no mention of the concerto for oboe, nor is there explicit mention of a continuo. Furthermore, the enumeration distinguishes “alto” and “viola,” which were usually taken as synonymous. Finally, there is the explicit mention of the organ as a continuo instrument. (Angelo Ephrikian’s Urtext edition for Ricordi does not have separate parts for alto and viola.) The most likely explanation is that the publisher did not pay much attention to the actual content (and may also have had a personal preference for organs in his personal tastes in music).
There is also a historical point of usage. Only one of the concertos begins with a slow introduction, the fourth in the Opus 12 collection. The tempo is marked as Largo spiccato. Now we tend to associate spiccato playing with the bow bouncing lightly on the strings, but this interpretation was not established until the late eighteenth century. In Vivaldi’s time at the beginning of the century, the tensions of both the strings and the bow, as well as the shape of the bow, were not particularly conducive to bouncing; so most scholars tend to agree that, for Vivaldi and others, “spiccato” simply meant “detached” and probably was synonymous with “staccato.” What is more interesting about this example is how it serves as an instance of how, across the twelve concertos in these two collections, Vivaldi would always come up with features that would give each concerto its own uniqueness.
In that respect Guglielmo deserves recognition for conveying those traits of uniqueness both as a soloist and as leader. The joke about Vivaldi having written one concerto 400 times is as inaccurate as it is tired. There is a freshness that Guglielmo brings to each concerto that is more likely to prompt the attentive listener to ask for more, rather than declare that (s)he has had enough. That freshness is probably reinforced by having only one player on each part (and having almost entirely different players for the two different collections), as well as diversity in the continuo choices involving harpsichord, theorbo, and Baroque guitar along with organ as an option.