How does a group of performers make a Vivaldi concerto you’ve heard more times than you can count sound, well, fresh and engaging? You play it like Jordi Savall and his Le Concert des Nations did in a 2003 performance at Cardona (Catalonia). You play the opening Adagio e spiccato with an almost fierce energy–you might say spiccato “a più non posso”–that sets those beginning repeated-note figures really alive and driving forward. Instead of “just chords”, the impression we get from most performances, Savall truly makes this a dynamic, dramatic introduction. Similarly, in the Larghetto, the ensemble heightens the drama by reveling in those rests, demonstrating how the sound of silence can have as much punch as actual sound. This is bold, intelligent, exciting Vivaldi. And the concerto is not even the main billing.
For that we go to the two Magnificats, both of which were recorded at concerts at Versailles in 2013. The same concern for articulation, dynamics, and the interpretive possibilities–the essential theatricality–of these works is fully on display, persuasively demonstrated–to cite just one example–in the Vivaldi Et misericordia, where the heartfelt attention to metrical inflection/phrasing really brings home the emotion of the text and musical setting. In the Bach Magnificat, the affecting and very effective enthusiasm temporarily draws the choral singers into a slightly rushed opening of the Omnes generationes, which soon attains a more balanced momentum. And here we have an Et misericordia more moving than in the Vivaldi, thanks of course to Bach’s music, but also to countertenor Damien Guillon and tenor David Munderloh’s lovely, well-matched voices and sensitive orchestral accompanying.
There’s also a simply ravishing performance of Bach’s concerto for harpsichord in D minor BWV 1052 (from 2013) with soloist Pierre Hantaï that highlights the consistently fine instrumental ensemble playing and excellent sound throughout this recording, no matter the venue or recording date. The thoughtful programming, first-rate performances, and expert engineering make this an easy recommendation.