New Classical Tracks - The Vivaldi Connection

by Julie Amacher
November 8, 2011

Listen New Classical Tracks: The Vivaldi Connection
Larger view
Apollo's Fire: Vivaldi and Friends (Courtesy of AVIE Records)

"All classical music sounds the same." Have you ever heard anyone make that claim? Obviously that statement makes little sense when you get into the fine detail and the subtleties of the music. However, one composer has been accused of writing the same concerto, 500 times. While others, like Bach, Haydn and Mozart, wrote a few dozen concertos, the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi composed over 500. He no doubt found a formula that worked. But musicians today admire Vivaldi just as much as his contemporaries, many of whom created arrangements based on his concertos. On this new release, "Vivaldi and friends," Jeannette Sorrell and the Cleveland based Baroque Orchestra Apollo's Fire explore some of Vivaldi's concertos, and a few by his admirers.

Jeannette Sorrell finds Vivaldi's rhythms and harmonies exhilarating. She proves this in her own arrangements of two of Vivaldi's concertos, the first of which opens this new recording. "La Folia" (which can be translated as "madness") is a dramatic Portuguese dance with Moorish influences. Legend has it that Portuguese girls would collapse after completing this frenzied dance which is full of seduction and dramatic courtship. The melody went on to catch the attention of many composers, including Vivaldi. Sorrell's arrangement turns his original trio sonata into a concerto grosso so the entire ensemble can join in "madness."

Transcribing violin pieces into keyboard pieces was common practice in the 18th century. Jeannette Sorrell follows that tradition by transcribing "Summer" from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" as a harpsichord concerto. Sorrell leaves Vivaldi's phrasing and harmonies intact; however, she does add a counter-melody in the second movement. She also tosses in a brief cadenza in the final movement. This entire transcription of "Summer" is a refreshing addition to the many recordings that already exist.

A delightful dialogue ensues between the four soloists in Vivaldi's Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3 No. 10, a piece that was transcribed by Bach for four keyboards. Bach transposed that piece down to A minor to accommodate the range of the keyboard. And of course, Bach made the solos much more challenging since he had a brood of keyboard specialists at his disposal in his own home.

This recording closes out with a concerto written in the style of Vivaldi, by Rene Schiffer, the principal cellist of Apollo's Fire, whose pen name when he's writing in historic style is Rene Duchiffre. Duchiffre's goal was to demonstrate the durability of the viola da gamba. Since baroque and classical composers in general failed to write any true concertos for the viola da gamba, Duchiffre decided to remedy the situation by creating this one for two violas da gamba. By making use of chords and double stops the two gambas are able to hold their own against the rest of the orchestra. This Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba, is subtitled "Tango," because it wraps up with a tango. It's a 20th century dance form that complements many dances of the baroque era because of its rhythmic simplicity and harmonic ostinato.

When Antonio Vivaldi wrote his hundreds and hundreds of concertos, he was guided by his inventiveness and even whimsy. On this recording, we can hear that Vivaldi's admirers were inspired to do the same.