Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto

Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto
Giovanni Antonini, Il giardino armonico
Outhere/Alpha 364. 59’45

Vivaldi: Concerti per flauto

Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 444
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 433 La Tempesta di Mare
Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 443
Nisi Dominus per chalumeau, RV 608 Cum dederit
Concerto in do minore per flauto,  RV 441
Concerto in la minore per flautino,  RV 445
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 442 Tutti gl’istromenti sordini

Giovanni Antonini is both the recorder soloist and the director of his own group, Il giardino armonico. With many Vivaldi recordings under their belt, this CD selects six Concertos for recorder and contrasts those with an arrangement of a movement from the Nisi Dominus for chalumeau, a forerunner of the clarinet.

Stay close to your playing device when you first start this recording – it is set at a very high volume setting in comparison with other CDs. That might also be a warning as to the nature of the performance. This is high drama, high energy stuff, presented with considerable punch from Giovanni Antonini and Il giardino armonico.

The recorder playing is frequently frenetic and breathless – sometimes almost literally so. While I can understand that such shows of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ virtuosity can appeal to some listeners, I do wonder if the cost to the music itself is worthwhile. Of course, Antonini is not the only recorder player to focus on astonishing feats of finger dexterity. I guess this is something to do with it being an instrument than most people have at least had a go at, even if only briefly at the age of about 8, so are more likely to appreciate the displays of technical brilliance of professional players.

The chalumeau version of Cum dederit from Nisi Dominus comes as something of a relief, not least in the change of solo timbre and pitch. Over a slowly pulsing accompaniment, the sensuous sound of the chalumeau seems to reflect a more reflective approach that could perhaps have been applied to some of the other movements on the CD. The slow movements of the concertos are generally taken at a languid pace and mood, and include some interesting effects from the recorder, including the use of vibrato, portamento and pitch wobbles.

The recordings come from 2011 and 2017. It is not clear when each concerto was recorded although, judging from the list of players, it looks as though RVs 433, 441, 443 and 444 were recorded in one session, and RVs 442 and 445 (the last two concertos on the CD) in another. The two sets of recording groups have different violinists (Enrico Onofri in the first group, Stefano Barneschi in the other two), violists and cellists. The four-concerto group also has a harpist.

All were recorded in the same space and I couldn’t detect any difference in the tracks. Perhaps inevitably, given the nature of the recording, the aural focus is concentrated on the solo recorder, with the light orchestral accompaniment very much in the background, Given the natural projection of the very high-pitched recorder, I wonder if a more balanced approach to comparative recording levels might have reflected better the structure of the music.

This video of the recording can perhaps best sum up the nature of the recording itself and Antonini’s approach to the music of Vivaldi better than my words.