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 Recording of the Week, Vivaldi Double Concertos from Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima

Regular readers may recall that a few weeks ago I spoke favourably of Buxtehude’s ability to produce powerful and dramatic works without resorting to what I dismissed as ‘boisterous Mediterranean techniques’. It seems my colleagues in the Presto office thought I was in danger of becoming too North European in my tastes and needed a swift dose of Venetian sunlight; accordingly, this week I’ve been listening to “Vivaldi x2”, a collection of eight double concertos performed by Adrian Chandler’s award-winning baroque band La Serenissima that simply bursts with Italian joie de vivre.

I tried in vain on successive listenings to find a single moment of darkness, or even merely of self-doubt, in this entire album; it’s exuberantly joyful from start to finish, and the players’ enjoyment of this holiday spirit is palpable in cheeky shades of rubato license, in lusty tuttis and in pair-solo passages that seem to bespeak an almost telepathic level of mutual understanding between the soloists.

With eight concerti on the album, the fair thing to do would be to give equal space to each one. However, pride of place has to go to the incredible talent of the two horn soloists Anneke Scott and Jocelyn Lightfoot. The two concerti on this album for paired horns are some of the first concertante works ever written for the horn, newly ‘tamed’ and brought from the hunt indoors to the concert hall, and they really put this newcomer of an instrument through its paces. The first concerto (RV539, which opens the album) sits in an exceptionally high tessitura throughout – so much so that I couldn’t help but smirk upon hearing the strings smoothly take over one particular rising sequence, which ascends so high that Vivaldi must have been begged by his players to show mercy!

Adrian ChandlerThere’s some indication that in eighteenth-century Italy the horn was sometimes viewed as a doubling instrument for trumpeters (much as the cor anglais is for modern oboists), and these stratospheric parts certainly bear this theory out. Anneke Scott’s prodigious technique scales these heights with ease, negotiating with clarity and assurance clarino pitches which would be terrifyingly insecure even on a modern horn, let alone the specially-commissioned period replica she plays here. It’s noticeable that she errs on the side of caution, daintily pointing these high notes with a light touch rather than tempting fate by giving them too much weight.

The second double horn concerto, RV538, involves less outright mountaineering but if anything more breathtaking agility than the first – nimble arpeggio motifs dashed off left, right and centre by both soloists as if they were the easiest thing in the world.

Among the five concerti on this album that don’t feature the horn, there are of course a wealth of little details which provide special delight – the unexpectedly rich drone-like ostinato for cello and basses early in the first movement of the concerto RV546 for violin and cello; the numerous charming solo-duet passages in the oboe and bassoon concerto RV545; and the playful answering phrases between violin and cello in the second concerto for this pairing (RV547), rising to overlap each other like waves on the beaches of the Venetian Lido.

The majestic ripieno concerto (whose mysterious subtitle per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B. continues to baffle musical detectives to this day) that closes the album brings together all these soloists for a collective curtain call of dazzling splendour. Every Vivaldi ingredient is here in vivid multi-instrumental colours: static fanfare-like grandstanding for soloists, striking dramatic turns (especially with abrupt shifts from the minor to major mode) and of course his trademark harmonic sequences, releasing tension in a cascade down the cycle of fifths.

Here in Britain we’ve just come to the end of a prolonged spell of uncharacteristically hot and sunny weather, but thanks to Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima the sun-drenched spirit of Southern Europe lingers on for a little longer.

Adrian Chandler (violin/director), La Serenissima

Vivaldi x2 was released on 20th July 2018.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Gail Hennessy, Rachel Chaplin (oboes) & Peter Whelan (bassoon), La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler

The Italian Job, featuring baroque instrumental music from across Italy, was released in 2017 and won the Baroque Instrumental category at that year's Gramophone Awards.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Adrian Chandler (director/violin), Peter Wheelan (bassoon), La Serenissima

La Serenissima's 21st birthday present to themselves – Vivaldi's immortal Four Seasons, complemented by concertos for bassoon and 'violin in tromba marina', a historical instrument recreated for two world-premiere recordings on this album.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC