When considering the first set of compositions designed to truly extend and test the technical limits of the violin, most would first consider the 24 Caprices of Paganini. However, more than a century before Paganini was even thought of, Italian composer Pietro Locatelli was pushing the violin to its limits with his four concertos of Opus 3, subtitled the "Art of the Violin."
This disc is really something special. Collectors are so spoiled for choice in the baroque repertoire at present, particularly on period instruments, but even in a glutted market this disc stands out for imaginative repertoire selection and outstanding interpretation. Its particularly gratifying, in these days of complete editions of everything, to see a discerning artist like Giuliano Carmignola choose four remarkably diverse works by three different composers, and simply play the living daylights out of them. The result roundly disproves the notion that Italian baroque violin concertos all sound the same, a point made even more forcefully by imaginative continuo work (on harpsichord, lute, and organ) by the Venice Baroque Orchestra that helps to emphasize each pieces individual character. The two Vivaldi concertos, for example, couldnt be more different.
In tandem with the “Vivaldian ardour” (International Record Review) of conductor-harpsichordist Andrea Marcon and his Venice Baroque Orchestra, violinist Giuliano Carmignola – “a wonderfully accomplished player” (Gramophone) – has raised the bar on recordings of the Venetian Baroque master. This 7-CD set contains many of Vivaldi’s most engaging concertos, enlivened with playing “full of character, energy and sensibility” (BBC Music Magazine) – including “a performance of the Four Seasons as fine as any” (ClassicsToday). It also features Carmignola and Marcon presenting the complete Bach Violin and Harpsichord Sonatas
“Here Claudio Abbado is gambolling among the Brandenburg Concertos in this straightforward TV-style concert film, recorded in the classic 19th-century opera house at Reggio Emilia during an Italian tour in spring 2007. The orchestra is at first glance a curious gathering, mixing 'Baroque' players such as violinist Giuliano Carmignola and harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone with 'modern' names such as trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich and 'un-Baroque' recorder-player Michala Petri. Furthermore, a look round the instruments reveals mostly modern models, some hybrids…” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
Carmignola’s fiery and successful “Vivaldi con moto” is followed by a more subtle and traditional Bach Concerto recording, a Co-Production between Deutsche Grammophon and Deutschlandfunk. Carmignola and Concerto Koln bring new and outstanding colors into this often recorded repertoire, and their temperamental performance introduces a sparkling and thrilling interpretation of Bach’s concertos. Carmignola is a unique artist and one of today’s most charismatic and captivating violinists, prompting The Strad to say “Timing is everything, and Carmignola has the timing of Sinatra. Rubato, portamento, pauses, tight-rope showmanship.” For the Double Concerto, Carmignola is joined by Mayumi Hirasaki on the first violin.
Violinist Giuliano Carmignola and conductor Andrea Marcon have served up another reminder that Vivaldi, in the right hands, is so much more than sonic wallpaper. These late Vivaldi concertos, given their premiere recordings here, are, for sure, more of the same musical illustrations, birdsongs, and harmonic sequences; what stands out is the aural handling they are given by Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Marcon.
The program begins with the most famous Vivaldi work of all, programmatic or not, the four violin concertos known as Le Quattro Stagioni or the Four Seasons. The rest of the music is much rarer. The second disc presents a set of five concertos grouped under the title "Le Humane Passioni" – the Human Passions. They are comparable to Couperin's subtle personifications of emotion, but they are not written in a French style. Instead, they are just as imaginative as the Four Seasons within the restrains of the typical three-movement concerto form. The most performed of the group is the Violin Concerto in D major, RV 234, "L'inquietudine," with its tumultuous quality, but equally enjoyable is the Violin Concerto in E major, RV 271, which seems almost to poke fun at the lovestruck personality. The final disc contains five concertos written for performance in churches, plus one odd Concerto "LDVB" (Grosso Mogul) in D major, RV 208, apparently added to fill out the disc. These date from various phases of Vivaldi's career, and listeners may find it difficult to detect a specific sacred style; the Concerto "Per la Solennita della S. Lingua di S. Antonio in Padua," RV 212 (CD 3, tracks 1-3), an early work, pushes the violin to the high extremes of its range.
This premiere recording of six Vivaldi concertos is full of surprises. The works are entirely unknown because, unlike his other compositions, they were written not for publication but for substantial private commissions from wealthy patrons. Dating from his most mature years, they exhibit a style very different from his earlier concertos, which often sound almost mass-produced. Though they are still cast in the customary three movements and are full of the usual sequences, they are more unpredictable, dramatic, and daring; adventurous in form, harmony, and texture; with sudden contrasts of mood, character, and expression. The slow movements are meltingly beautiful, but no two concertos are alike, either in detail or overall effect. Some movements hardly seem to hang together; they appear to consist of collages of motives, punctuated by bursts of virtuosity.