Album Title: Vivaldi - Concertos for two violins (RV 516, 511, 514, 524, 509, 523)
Viktoria Mullova, Giuliano Carmignola; Andrea Marcon, Venice Baroque Orchestra
Label and #: Deutsche Grammophon, Archiv Production, 477 7466
Running time:
October 2007

Everybody knows Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Yet the globally famous Italian priest of the 1700s left us far more than those four violin concertos...

Much of his legacy is still to be brought to the public. Until then, it's kept in a dedicated Turin collection. Vivaldi literally invented the concerto style wherein one or more instruments dialog with the orchestra in a three-movement structure which typically alternates between fast, slow and fast tempi. His contribution to this genre consists of hundreds of concertos counting from one to thirteen soloists (the latter in certain concertos for multiple instruments). They feature not only the violin but most of the instruments of his time. Some of the concertos actually exist in various re-orchestrated versions to accommodate the available instruments and skills of the soloists of the day's various venues.

The double concertos on this disc are amongst those rarely played. This alone would be reason enough to single out this album. These concertos belong to Vivaldi's masterpieces and illustrate multiple aspects of his composing style where two violins rapidly swap phrases, echo and overlap each other but never collide or interfere. Vivaldi's compositional style is characterized by democracy in that both soloists play equal parts in the music. None dominates the other in bravura, range or spotlighting. It is easy to understand why when one remembers that Vivaldi mainly composed for the young musicians of the Ospedale della Pieta, an all-girl orphanage. The two intertwined violin scores allowed his young pupils to deliver a far more complex and technically advanced performance than they would have been capable of on their own.

Yet at times one of the violins suddenly takes control of the composition for a short instant as though stepping in front of the second soloist. One hypothesis is that those short and rare escapades into virtuosity or contemplation may have been intended for Vivaldi himself who had a reputation for being an exceptional violinist.

But more than the rarity and exceptional quality of the material here, it is the quality of the soloists and of the Venice Baroque Orchestra that are stand-outs. Club Vivaldi lovers, of which I am a proud card-holding member, will debate infinitely on whether Andrew Manze, Fabio Biondi or Giuliano Carmignola is currently the best performer of Vivaldi's violin concertos and whose Stradivarius, Guarneri or Guadagnini is best suited for the job. I have a preference for Carmignola's sensuality and grace over Manze's less exuberant sound and Biondi's devilish virtuosity yet on this disc, the debate becomes irrelevant.

Just as those double concertos were designed to create an impression of greater
skill than any soloist could achieve on their own, the association of Viktoria Mullova and Giuliano Carmignola reaches levels rarely if ever attained for this repertoire. These two simply know how to play music together. The results are gorgeous, the complicity obvious and their sonorities, although slightly different, a perfect complement to each other.

I don't know if it is emulation or perfect chemistry but Carmignola takes full advantage of the nuances his borrowed Stradivarius is capable of and Mullova ups her baroque interpretational style to a level she had not demonstrated before. Mullova has come a long way over the past two years resurrecting herself from her creative depression. The very best compliment one can pay her here is how virtually impossible it has become to tell the two violinists apart. Considering that Carmignola is at his very best with decades of practice on this repertoire behind him, this means a lot.

This is delightful passionate music made even more exceptional by the encounter of two like-minded virtuosi. The Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon's baton too is on its best behavior, unobtrusive yet offering a fully developed tonal range in perfect support of the soloists.

Once in a blue moon, the perfect repertoire collides with exalted soloists, an orchestra delivering its best performance in a long while and recording engineers respectful of the performance. When that happens, a Blue Moon Award is de rigueur. If you think Vivaldi is overrated and overplayed, this disc will force you to reconsider. If it does not, you better check your pulse. Your ticker could be expiring...