Unless you are a cetologist, all whales of a species look alike to you. The seasoned eye, meanwhile, will take one glance at a disappearing dorsal fin and immediately conclude: “Oh, look, there’s Laura!” Same thing with Vivaldi violin concertos: The more we indulge, the greater the differentiation and joy. Having arrived at Vol. 63, Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition does just that with this exemplary disc: Six seldom recorded concertos, all of theatrical quality but for the calm and simpler RV 321, all late Vivaldi, written sometime after 1724.
Listening bodes well and so does comparison: Shlomo Mintz and the Israel Chamber Orchestra have recorded three of these (Nimbus). Played uniformly beautifully and prim, they sound aged after 20 years. The staid, all-too-proper orchestral playing can’t hold a candle to Naïve’s band. They are not remotely competitive in any movement except perhaps the gorgeous Largo of RV 387–based on an aria from Vivaldi’s opera Giustino (Vol. 58 of the Vivaldi Edition)–where Mintz’s lyrical tone pays off. Julien Chauvin and Le Concert de la Loge meanwhile don’t fall into the “pretty-trap”. For all their beauty of execution, they play the dickens out of these works and it remains enjoyable and interesting after playing the disc on loop for days.
Across three discs and two labels, Giuliano Carmignola and his Venice Baroque Orchestra offer delicate nuance and broad dynamics, also in three of these six concertos. They are not nearly as boldly entertaining in the theatrical RV 217 but great in RV 235, where the theorbo-work of the orchestra in the slow movement is still more delectable than that of Le Concert de la Loge. Amandine Beyer and Gli Incogniti offer an intriguing alternative in this quintessential Vivaldi spark-plug concerto, with their near-symphonic take in ear-engulfing sound.
Not even Viktoria Mullova with Giovanni Antonini (Onyx) match Chauvin & Co.’s energetic and bristling–yet always still elegant–performance in the Gallant-virtuosic curtain-raiser of a concerto RV 187. Nor does anyone else in RV 366, the “Il Carbonelli” concerto with its Four Seasons-referencing Adagio. Despite there being no sense of one-upmanship (no sense of “faster-wilder-crazier” for its own sake), the five-year-old French orchestra makes Vivaldi come as vividly to life as can be imagined. A must-have Vivaldi recording.