The Vivaldi Concerto for mandolin and orchestra, RV 425, was an essential component of the 1970s classical LP collection - with the mandolin amped up so loud in order to compete with a large orchestral string section that it sounded like an electric guitar blazing through an arena rock concert. Things have improved a bit since then, but balance between soloists and ensemble has always been a problem with the works featured on this release. The problem has rarely been solved so nicely as it is here. The group of string players used, a fine pan-European set of historical-performance specialists, is not especially small, and lutenist/guitarist/mandolinist Rolf Lislevand is elegant and clean but not arresting on his own. The key is how the whole ensemble works together to bring out the solos, sensitively shaping lines while keeping dynamic levels low enough to set off the soloists - and, in trio-sonata works, defining the relationships among the soloists themselves. Especially attractive here are the two comparatively rare concertos and two trio sonatas that involve both lute and violin or viola d'amore (the final concerto, RV 93, is for two violins, lute, and continuo). Setting a sharp boundary between the realms of the plucked instruments and the bowed strings here is a real challenge. In a way, it's harder for the mandolin or lute to stand up to a single violin than to a whole group of them. But Lislevand and his cohorts bring it off in very carefully controlled environments in which the lute or mandolin is a full participant in the dialogue, a graceful dancer to the singing violin. Superb sound engineering from a Swiss studio also counts as part of the success of the performance; the temptation to use the resonance of a church to amplify the plucked instruments has wisely been resisted. This is a good addition to any Vivaldi concerto library and a very pleasant set of pieces for anyone who likes the mandolin or lute.
All Music Guide
"On this release, Rolf Lislevand is the soloist who presides over cutting-edge interpretations, employing a talented group of specialist period-instrument performers... Lislevand is an outstanding baroque guitarist who commands respect from the first note to the last with stunning interpretations that are awash with colour. He is at one with the emotional and technical demands of the music and I loved the way he imparts a spiritual, almost ethereal quality to the slow movements. The accompaniment is of the highest quality and I especially enjoyed the rich and varied basso continuo. The Na?ve engineers have provided especially warm and detailed sonics... Lislevand displays his impeccable credentials on this superbly performed and recorded release of Vivaldi mandolin and lute works from Naive."
========= from the cover ==========
Antonio Vivaldi: virtuoso Venetian music for lute & mandolin
Throughout the Baroque period Venice was famed for the accomplishments - particularly musical - of its four ospedali. These charitable institutions (dell' Ospedaletto, dei Mendicanti, degli Incurabili and della Pieta) were in fact orphanages devoted to the care and education of the Republic's foundlings. Music teaching became a normal part of their curriculum and the music given in the chapels attracted many distinguished visitors, who travelled from far and wide to hear the most gifted pupils, trained by some of the finest composers of the time, including Legrenzi, Hasse, Porpora, Jommelli and Galuppi. As well as travelling within Italy (Rome, where he played before the Pope, and Florence) and abroad (Amsterdam. Prague. Vienna and probably also Dresden), Vivaldi, the prince of violinists and also a highly valued teacher, worked in that stimulating milieu for most of his life. He was mainly director of music at the Pio Ospedale della Pieta, where he saw to the training of the instrumentalists and to the quality of an orchestra that was soon renowned in Italy and throughout Europe. He also had the task of providing compositions for the very popular public concerts that were given by that institution each Sunday. Despite poor health, Vivaldi's many varied activities (and we must remember that he was also an impresario) brought him under attack from rivals (including Benedetto Marcello), who envied his success as a composer for chamber, stage and chapel.
This programme pays tribute in particular to Vivaldi's inventiveness and love of instrumental colour. He took an interest in almost every family of instruments in the Baroque orchestra and practised with enthusiasm the different concerted forms of his time - concertos for soloist or for several instruments (Concerti per moltj stromenti. including one per I'orchestra di Dresda), trio sonatas, and so on - boldly playing with stimulating rhythms, harmonic effects and ingenious blends of timbre in which his natural theatricality anticipated the orchestral innovations of the sons of J. S. Bach or of the Stamitz dynasty at Mannheim. Vivaldi is possibly at his most distinctive and inspired in his dreamlike slow movements. The priest was a pioneer, trying out unexpected instrumental associations, 'les gouts reunis'. as they were known at the time in France, and favouring original, colourful combinations, as here, within the string orchestra. The works selected by Rolf Lislevand show how Vivaldi's keen curiosity led him not only to rescue the lute from the restrictive role usually assigned to it in the continuo, but also to show an uncommon interest in what we might call 'exotic' instruments, with his concertos for two mandolins. Of course, by Vivaldi's time the mandolin had lost its picturesque connotations. Yet the composer appears to have been captivated, as well as by the lute, by the delightful effects of resonance and rhythmic impulsion offered by this instrument so typical of southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno, we remember, begins at the gates of Rome and stretches far enough south to include Sicily). These features are illustrated by the two works on this recording, which are presented in their original version for two mandolins, an option that enables the musicians not only to work on sound and tempo, but also to integrate an interesting notion of space between the two soloists, apart from the usual exchanges with the ripieno. These works, it is generally accepted, were a success during the composer's lifetime - a success due, no doubt, to the new colour relationships that Vivaldi introduced into his concertos. At all events, a rhetoric deriving from a delightful acoustic pointillism manifests itself here, with the author once again showing his inventiveness in the instrumentation. First on this programme, the Concerto in G major RV532 for two mandolins, strings and basso continuo follows the usual three-movement pattern, fast-slow-fast. The opening Allegro is founded on the driving energy of the scansion. Then comes the Andante in E minor, an elegiac cantilena demonstrating the pizzicato power of the mandolins - an effect that, by another composer, might have been superficial, but Vivaldi's infallible sense of poetry saves the piece from routine. Returning to the key of G major, the final Allegro is marked by an unquenchable effervescence revealing the composer's hedonism.
The Concerto in C major RV425 for two mandolins, strings and basso continuo is also full of vitality and rhythm - at least, in its outer movements. The opening Allegro, with its brief, repetitive motif, is a fine example of Vivaldian dynamics. But the magical moment comes in the Largo in A minor, one of those tranquil, nocturnal pieces for which he knew the secret. In the final movement, a short Allegro in C major, the two mandolins are appropriately pitted against each other in the usual energetic manner.
The Trio in G minor RV85 for violin, lute and basso continuo is more intimate and imbued with a vague melancholy. In the half-light often associated in Vivaldi with the key of G minor, the first movement, Andante molto, unfolds its charming figurations with a meditative touch not unworthy of the great J. S. Bach himself (who, we remember, wrote several works for the lute when he was at Eisenach). The following Larghetto, in 3/8, lingers again in a dreamy mood, but rhythm takes over once more (without change of key) in the short conclusive Allegro movement with its pleasing symmetries and, as expected, expressive climate. We then come to the Concerto in D minor RV540 for viola d'amore, lute, strings and basso continuo. This is an important piece in Vivaldi's rich output of concerted works. For once the circumstances of its composition are known to us. 21 March 1740 has gone down in history for the memorable concert that was given that day in honour of Friedrich Christian, the Prince Elector of Saxony, who was then staying in the Republic. All of Venice's official and private institutions were called upon for that occasion, and notably three of the ospedali for which the city was renowned. Naturally Vivaldi, who was already well known in Dresden for his maestria, was asked to play a prominent part, both as a composer and an instrumentalist. The result was a sumptuous performance at the Ospedale della Pied.
including several new instrumental works written specially for the occasion by Vivaldi, two of them using quite unusual instruments: RV540 (presented here) and RV558. a Concerto for violins in tromba marina, two chalumeaux. two recorders, two mandolins, two theorbos, cello and strings. The great instrumental wealth that the composer brought into play was also intended to impress the Prince and show that he was available, i.e. ready to leave the Lagoon - where his employers were more and more critical of his misdemeanours - for a position in keeping with his talent in the 'Athens of the North'. Vivaldi did indeed leave Venice a few weeks later, and he died the following year, disappointed and impecunious, not in Dresden but in Vienna. In an anonymous text now in the Museo Correr. we read: 'Antonio Vivaldi, known as "the red Priest" [...] had at one time earned more than 50,000 ducats a year, but because of his rash and extravagant spending he died in poverty in Vienna.' But let us return to RV540. This concerto is marked by the distinctive acoustic qualities of the viola d'amore (with its extra sympathetic strings), which interacts with the lute and the rest of the instnimentarium. A harmonious Allegro moderato in 2/4 (a dialogue between the two soloists fits naturally between the introductory and the conclusive sinfonia of the ripieno) is followed by a Largo in the relative F major, a typically Vivaldian dreamlike piece shared between the fervent romance, cantabile, of the viola d'amore and the delicate garlands of the lute. But the final Allegro (D minor, 3/8), in which once again the swift, incisive exchanges between the soloists are inserted between the sinfonia of the strings and continuo at beginning and end. unequivocally proclaims the triumph of rhythm. More modest in its intentions, the Trio in C major RV 82 for violin, lute and basso continuo is very similar in style and structure to RV 85. mentioned earlier, but the return to the major key brings brightness and cheerfulness to its fast movements: an Allegro non molto quasi andante marked C, i.e. 4/4, whose clarity brings Boccherini to mind, and an elliptical Allegro in 2/4. In the middle movement. Larghetto in C minor and 3/4. the lute creates a precious dreamy quality, giving us a foretaste of pre-Romantic nostalgia. This programme by Rolf Lislevand ends with the popular Concerto in D major RV93 for two violins, lute and basso continuo, a masterpiece firmly anchored throughout its three movements in the key of D major, but nevertheless retaining the virtuoso touch. After an Allegro giusto attacked impetuously by the strings, but tempered somewhat by the flowing melody of the lute's 'response', the Largo (same key) turns into an ornate aria played smoothly by the lute over tied notes from the strings. Then a typically Vivaldian liveliness and a certain urgency return in the final Allegro, in which strings and lute engage in a friendly spar, spurred on by their own delightful sounds.
Vivaldi constantly appears in the dual role of the playful virtuoso (fast movements) and the impenitent dreamer (in his wonderful, inimitable slow movements). He is both Harlequin and Clitandre. His music is vibrant and remarkably modern.
- Roger Tellart