Recent years have brought a steady stream of recordings of Vivaldi concertos beyond the dozen or so famous ones, and it has became clear that his corpus of work remains a land of mostly unexplored riches. Consider the pair of Vivaldi works included on this Concerto veneziano, performed by violinist Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Neither work sounds remotely like the Four Seasons and the other Vivaldi concertos most people are familiar with. The first movement of the Violin Concerto in E minor, RV 278, is the sort of piece Vivaldi's successor Tartini had in mind when he complained in reference to the elder master's music that "a throat isn't the neck of a violin"; it is a wordless but highly evocative little operatic scene, complete with mounting grimness and sudden chromatic shocks. The Concerto for Violin and Strings ("in due cori") in B flat major, RV 583, is a grand work with a highly virtuosic (and scordatura) violin part set against two small orchestras; annotator Roger-Claude Travers speculates that it was written for some special occasion. The slow movements of both of these works are of the unbearably beautiful sort that Vivaldi seemed to write with miraculous ease; the B flat concerto's central movement is a chaconne that begins almost minimalistically and expands into a cascade of pure ornament in the violin.
Concertos by Pietro Locatelli and Giuseppe Tartini are also included. They show how the next generation of Italian virtuosi dealt with Vivaldi's example. One learns from the liner notes that Vivaldi was the first to suggest the idea of a cadenza. A massive cadenza in the Locatelli work challenges the violinist to the same degree as did Bach's sonatas for unaccompanied violin, but it has all the musical interest of a 1970s rock drum solo. Still and all, this is a must-have disc for lovers of the Baroque concerto. Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra achieve an ideal new Italian sound in the historical-performance arena, with a warmth that stands in contrast to the glittering surfaces wrought by northern European groups. One attractive feature of this release is the set of liner notes; in the U.S. version they are in English only, which allows room for enthusiastic discourse on the music itself along with detailed and entertaining performer biographies. Presumably other countries get the notes in their own languages. This approach is preferable to the packed-in small print one usually finds when translations in three or more languages are included. True, the label has to split up the production run this way, but in these days of digital graphics files, that really shouldn't be much of a problem.