Antonio Vivaldi: A master synonymous with Baroque music. Highly renowned in his day yet vanquishing into obscurity following his earthly passing, he has since regained his fame threefold since the rediscovery of his works in the past century. While his illustrious Four Seasons has served as a substantial — and often overdone — claim to fame in contemporary society, his chamber concertos and lesser-played works are equally charming and share the honor of numerous recordings. Although many both modern instrument and historical performance performances abound, a recent release featuring Italian recorder virtuoso Maria Giovanna Fiorentino and her ensemble, I Fiori Musicali, stands out as a definitive rendition of these lovely works.
In the spirit of her previous Corelli and Barsanti recordings reviewed on this blog, Fiorentino and her ensemble deliver yet another outstanding gem destined to make the Red Priest proud in his afterlife sabbatical. Fiorentino shimmered and shone in her usual technical brilliance, delivering a performance on par with the most famous recorder players alive today. Articulation proved crisp yet tender when required, coupled with impeccably clean fingerwork and pinnacle execution of melodic line. As a pleasant surprise, Fiorentino’s traverso debut on this recording proved equally brilliant as her recorder playing and a testimony of her fine musicianship and technical mastery. Every signature aspect of her recorder playing was present on the traverso and so masterfully executed that I found myself exclaiming “Brava” at the end of each track. Consequently, I am looking very forward to hearing more of Fiorentino on the traverso in upcoming recordings.
Fiorentino’s accompanying ensemble also proved impressive once again. The awesome and technically brilliant continuo section tinkled, strummed, and danced along to the melody, rounding out the rich and deep texture of Vivaldi’s works. Rather than the usual arrangement of a harpsichord with a stringed bass instrument, Maria Luisa Baldassari’s harpsichord combined with the depth of Paolo Tognon’s bassoon — and especially the plucked strings — highlighted detail and harmonies that would generally remain imperceptible. In fact, this exceptionally powerful and exuberant bass harkened back to similar situations used in the recordings of Europa Galante and Il Giardino Armonico. Despite this outstanding continuo section, violinist Dario Luisi proved disappointing in his performance. In contrast with all the other featured artists, Luisi’s performance greatly suffered from intonation errors and lacked the confidence exhibited by the other performers within the CD, thus failing to capture my violinist blessing.
Despite this minor flaw, this recording proved most delightful and a true “definitive” recording with regards to recordings of these charming concerti. In the spirit of true Baroque rhetoric and the concept of the “passions”, Fiorentino and her ensemble fully heeded and captured each and every detail with Vivaldi’s music, creating a rich tapestry of harmony, rhetoric, and all facets of historical performance. This alone renders the CD a timeless and definitive recording of these works; historically informed performers and classical musician fans alike are thoroughly in for a treat. In fact, with how impressive this CD proved, I shall consequently retire many of my other recordings of these works and will be taking this CD in the car for listening during my daily work commutes. Poetic writing aside, I urge all to pick up a copy and listen. Your perception of recorder playing, Vivaldi, continuo, and more will be transformed forever …