Giovanni Antonini & Il Giardino Armonico - Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto - Gramophone

It may seem strange that Il Giardino Armonico, founded as long ago as 1985 as one of the very first Italian period orchestras and led by as brilliant a recorder player as Giovanni Antonini, should have taken 35 years to get around to producing a straightforward disc of Vivaldi recorder concertos. Equally hard to explain is why some of the concertos on this release were recorded in 2011 and some in 2017. Neither of these oddities detracts in any way from the success of the disc, however: the ensemble has lost none of the vigorous high spirit with which it first made an impact in the early ’90s, and the performances have no feel of having mouldered on the shelf.

Of the six concertos here, three are for alto recorder and three for sopranino, and Antonini’s playing of them is agile, crisply articulated and full of ideas. Like many recorder players he enlivens the lines with low-level, spontaneous-sounding ornamentation to add impetus or smooth corners, but he also shows his virtuoso mettle in moments such as the dazzling fluttering arpeggios in RV441. Above all, though, he shapes every phrase of his and the orchestra’s so that the music is always alive, always going somewhere. Il Giardino Armonico did record RV442 long before, along with the earlier chamber version (RV98) of La tempesta di mare (Teldec, 4/92), but the newer readings show more flexibility, wisdom and richness – the anticipatable benefits of experience.

A non-concerto, non-recorder bonus comes in the shape of wondrous ‘Cum dederit’ movement from the motet Nisi Dominus, with Antonini supplying the alto singer’s line on chalumeau with a dark, duduk-like tone-colour that adds to its already strikingly Middle Eastern atmosphere.

Forensic analysis of the orchestra list suggests that ‘Cum dederit’, RV442 and RV445 come from one session and the rest from the other, but there is no appreciable audible difference between them save for the slight extra bloom provided by a continuo harp in the ‘rest’ session. Top-class Vivaldi music-making.

01 July 2020