Two questions present themselves to the hearer of this disc by Quebec's Ensemble Caprice. The disc juxtaposes tunes from a collection of Gypsy music collected in 1730 in Uhrovska, in what is now Slovakia, with a group of Vivaldi concertos, and the booklet further asserts not only musical similarity but also influence from traveling Gypsy musicians on Vivaldi's colorful solo writing. The first question is whether the program works on its own merits, and here the answer is affirmative. Certainly the temporal proximity of the Uhrovska collection and the height of Vivaldi's career is instructive, and it's easy enough to imagine an audience in one of the cities where Vivaldi worked -- which did include Vienna and other points east of his Venetian home -- hearing a band of Gypsy musicians in the streets before heading inside for music by Vivaldi. Recorder and flute players Matthias Maute (who is also the director) and Sophie Larivière have both dramatic flair and superb technical equipment, and Baroque violinist David Greenberg creates a tough yet precise tone in the Gypsy pieces, which were notated by an unidentified party in a single line. The simple, somewhat percussive accompaniments the group adds make good sense, and even the preludes and improvisations added by Maute to the Vivaldi concertos are effective -- Maute's procedure is backed up by some documentary evidence. The recordings of the Gypsy pieces are useful in themselves, and several of the slow ones provide tantalizing hints of the Gypsies' origins on the Indian subcontinent.
The second question is whether the listener is convinced that Vivaldi was influenced by Gypsy music, and here the news is not as good. The case rests on slender evidence -- the undoubted fact that Vivaldi's contemporary Telemann had a taste for exotic music, the assertion by a Grove's Dictionary article author that Vivaldi was influenced by Slovak music (not the same as Gypsy music), and an asserted rhythmic similarity between the finale of the Vivaldi Concerto for recorder, strings, and continuo in B flat major, RV 375, and some of the Gypsy pieces presented on the CD. None of these holds up well. Telemann was specific about the sound, usually Polish, that he was after, and Vivaldi would have had no reason to conceal any Eastern influence. Indeed, the one work he wrote that did have an exotic title, the violin concerto subtitled "Il grosso mogul," seems to have no Eastern influence whatsoever. Vivaldi spent only the end of his career in Vienna. And the RV 375 example is intriguing but unconvincing; numerous Vivaldi concertos have the syncopations and the vigorous dynamic contrasts on which the comparison rests. Indeed, they're virtually hallmarks of his style. The booklet has a way of presenting the Vivaldi-Gypsy linkage as if it were a settled thing when it is actually more in the nature of whimsical speculation. There is nevertheless an increasing market for speculative Baroque performances, and it is there that this disc will find its niche.