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Vivaldi: Flute Sonatas

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Give flutist Mario Folena credit: he's come up with a Vivaldi flute disc that's markedly different from the dozens of others on the market. First is the centerpiece: Jean-Jacques Rousseau's very own transcription for solo flute of the "Spring" concerto from The Four Seasons. Even if this isn't quite a meeting of two of the greatest minds of the eighteenth century, it's skillfully done (all of the echo effects are intact), interestingly altered so as to make the music fall in line with Rousseau's ideas about natural style and just all-around nifty. It offers an instant term-paper or thesis topic for the desperate music history student. But wait, there's more. In the sonatas for solo flute and basso continuo, Folena begins with an improvisational-style prelude. There are a few puzzling issues here. One would have liked to learn more about this procedure, which most of the many authentic-performance groups playing Vivaldi have not seen fit to adopt, but the booklet merely calls it the "ancient practice of the 'ricercata.'" And Folena does not actually improvise these preludes, but rather uses very short extracts from works by another composer, Nicola Matteis. It's hard to imagine that these brief preludes (two of them are under a minute long) sound like what would have been done in Vivaldi's time, if indeed such preludes were played at all. Stranger still is the continuo accompaniment, which, conversely, does seem to feature a good deal of actual improvisation. Keyboardists Francesco Baroni and Roberto Loreggian alternate between harpsichord and a small organ, not unorthodox in itself, but they switch between the two, and sometimes combine the two, within individual movements. This is unorthodox, unsettling, and done without reference to even a shred of documentary evidence in favor of the practice. However, who knows? Continuo playing in Vivaldi's time was probably a freer art than the one known today. The flute playing by Folena and second flutist Stefania Marusi is lively and enjoyable, and the sound environment of a Paduan estate is ideal. Of the most interest to experimenters within the early music field, this disc is worth the money for the Rousseau transcription alone.

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