Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
The viola d’amore is a curious beast. It has extra strings (like the baryton) that exist for no purpose other than to provide resonance, producing a fuzzy timbral halo that sweetens the slightly nasal, husky tone of the instrument, rather like a sort of mild continuous vibrato. When played with perfect intonation such as we might expect from Rachel Barton Pine, the result is captivatingly mellow and expressive, even in virtuoso passages. Vivaldi composed eight concertos for viola d’amore, and here they all are, smartly gathered together and performed to the hilt.
Although Vivaldi limited himself tonally in these works (to D, F, and A, with four in D minor), the instrument’s unusual tunings, combined with inventive scoring, ensure variety and contrast. The Concerto in F major pits the viola d’amore against a wind ensemble of oboes, horns, and bassoon, with the oboes and horns muted. I’m not sure what a muted baroque oboe is, but they sound lovely here and the horns also never turn gnarly–they really do complement the timbre of the viola d’amore. There’s also a double concerto, RV 540, for viola d’amore and lute, with the superb Hopkinson Smith on hand to partner Barton Pine.
The players of Ars Antigua accompany with evident relish, although as usual with today’s period instrument groups the strings could use some natural vibrato in the slow movements. Leaving it out or minimizing it the way they do is neither stylish nor “authentic”, but when the playing itself is so pointed and in tune it matters very little. The fact that the sonics are drop-dead gorgeous and the balances absolutely perfect also counts for a lot. If you thought that Vivaldi all sounds the same, consider this release as a welcome corrective.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: None
- VIVALDI, ANTONIO:Concertos for Viola D'Amore RV 97; 392-7; 540