Monday, 14 April 2014

Piece of the day: Concerto com molti stromenti RV558 by Vivaldi

Now I must admit this piece is not so obscure.

I think we all need a bit more baroque in our lives though. I mean proper baroque, not Albinoni's Adagio (not actually by the man, although I do like it) which will be discussed in a future post; or baroque music played on an orchestra that's too big with modern instruments, modern tuning and very questionable musical and historical decisions (hint hint Karl Richter). Of course I have a lot to say on historical performance, but let's not go there yet because I might bite you.

This video which I'm about to share is - in my opinion - probably as close to perfection as one can get regarding baroque music. Take a look.

This work by the Red Priest is the concerto for two recorders, two mandolins, two chalumeaux (baroque forerunner of the clarinet), theorbos (big fat lutes that could be used in sonic warfare due to their 55cm + long strings that go as low as the third A below middle C), a single violoncello, and two violins "in tromba marina".  Otherwise known as the Concerto com molti stromenti.

It is a late work, written in 1740 for a visit by Prince Frederick Christian of Poland to Venice. It is possibly one of his most unique and rounded works: I really really like it. You need not look further than the instrumentation to see that this is a great piece of work.

Something I would especially like to draw attention to is the specification that Vivaldi wrote on the score: "Due violini in tromba marina" (that's and educated guess, using my terribe Italian skills, as the score is not available online). This literally means "two violins in the manner of the marine trumpet (tromba marina)". The tromba marina was a two metre long instrument with one string, that had such a setup that it created a buzzing when played due to its bridge position. This gave it a trumpet-like sound, hence the name (have a listen: courtesy of Iconografia Musical).

Tromba Marina

So what does Vivaldi think he's doing instructing a 59cm long instrument to sound like a 200cm long instrument?

What Vivaldi probably meant was that the violins were to recreate the buzzing that the hefty beast made when played. In the video, Fabio Biondi and the Europa Galante ensemble execute this fantastically, wherein the two principal violinists scrunch up some tin foil onto their bridges, creating a great buzzing sound. It would have probably have been done with paper originally. This, along with the theorbos, mandolins, recorders and cello, creates a highly developed and intricate texture which makes this piece a joy to listen to.

But what I love about this interpretation is its historical accuracy and the great sense of performance. The ensemble is stood up and arranged appropriately, with Fabio Biondi leading the whole thing in due course. Small rits and other slight nuances are performed, with some natural tempo variations that altogether make this a very alive and musical performance, despite my ardent dislike of Biondi's four seasons (why do people assume "historically accurate" means throw away everything people have done with the piece before and play it as crazily as possible?!). 
This goes to all who think that historical performances are dull and unmusical. 

Furthermore, the musicians are really enjoying themselves and are all playing with the greatest technical skill, whilst making intelligent, accurate and musical interpretation decisions as a coherent unit. 

There. Done. Semi-perfection.

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