Vivaldi Concertos for the Recorder

VIVALDI Concertos for the recorder: RV 312R, 428, 433, 439, 441, 443 Sébastien Marq (rcr); Jean-Christophe Spinosi (cond); Ens. Matheus (J.- C. Spinosi, F. Paugam, E. Curial, M. Dupuy,  vn; L. Paugam, M. Haudidier, va; P. Warnier, vc; Th. Runarvot, db; H. Clerc-Murgier, hpd; M. Buraglia, theorbo), (period instruments)  OPUS 111 OP 30371 (50:39)

Jaded reviewers rarely expect to be surprised by any new performance of a piece they already know. Much less if that piece is by Vivaldi, a composer who, some say, repeated himself to exhaustion. But this recording is a shock to the ears. Is that a quality or a defect? Now that depends, dear reader, entirely on you.

Sébastien Marq is a fabulous recorder player, with the flashiest technique. He can move his fingers faster than you can think – and that is very, very fast. The ensemble Matheus is brilliantly equipped to follow him into the wilderness. Together, they present a most original version of these familiar works. So original, in fact, that they become totally unfamiliar, almost schizoid.

What they do is simply to exaggerate every single item in the musical menu: “allegro” is thus “bursting with excitement”; “presto” means “as fast as humanly possible”, or sometimes faster; “largo” translates as ”so slow that one can hardly bear it”. Staccatos are truly short and pointed. Contrasting dynamics are worlds apart. Tempo inflections are abundant.  Rests are silences of such intensity that one is afraid to breathe. Fermatas are held forever. All gestures are intensified and charged with dramaticism.

How does all of this sound? A bit confusing, at first. It is hard to get some of the melodic lines, either because the notes happen in such quick succession that it is impossible to follow them or because, on the contrary, phrases are so stretched out that one loses the sense of direction altogether. So if you never heard these works, this might not be your best introduction to them. But if, like me, you have heard them a hundred times, this is a fascinating exercice in imagination, and it is carried through with bravado.

These musicians spent a long time thinking about these works, and these ideas, no matter how odd, are clearly and lovingly displayed. All involved with this recording are accomplished musicians. They perform with uncommon energy and passion, while at the same time they seem to question every single convention that others have always taken for granted. They are not afraid to be extravagant, even weird. It does not always work, since at times the interpretation is so frantic that it borders on the insane: like a 33’ RPM long-play mistakenly heard at 45’RPM. Slow movements feel sometimes like 20th century compositions – very experimental and disconnected. A 45’ RPM disc mistakenly played at 33 RPM.  After a few listenings, however, it is entertaining to disentangle themes and finally make sense of this flood of furious sound. And in the end it makes beautiful sense.

After all, Vivaldi was undoubtedly a man interested in new experiences. And the liberties taken by Marq and friends are not random, but rather based on the descriptive character of these works. Thus, the very slow movement, the one which is most unnervingly prolonged, fittingly called “Il sonno”, is a perfect musical representation of the drowsiness that precedes sleep. “Il Gardellino” has uneven, crazy out-of-tune little bird-calls – just right for a concerto depicting a nightingale. The fact is, overall, this is playing that has soul and guts. To me, it sounds refreshing, bold. And intriguing as well.

This is the sort of CD you will either love or hate with equal intensity. If you normally do not like excessive liberty with the score, if Harnoncourt’s interpretations sound too extreme to you, you will probably be offended by this one. In that case, a more traditional view of these works (such as Dorothée Oberlinger’s, for Marc Aurel LC 572) would be a wiser choice. But if you are in a truly adventurous frame of mind, if you already have many versions of the Vivaldi recorder concerti, and you are looking for one that will have something new to say about them, this CD is a must-have. 

(Laura Rónai)