Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.
Baroque concertos and jazz jam sessions alike feature soloists snapping into intricate runs over a cooking accompaniment. No surprises there: technical and expressive virtuosity would be just as seductive for eighteenth century listeners as twentieth century ones. Listening to this concerto, it seems that Vivaldi’s audiences also enjoyed the type of thrashing display now associated with rock [just click the link to listen]:
Hear the way the soloist tears in after those perfectly ordered fourths at the start? No finely wrought phrases, no harmonic or rhythmic explorations, just pure shredding violin. Even the rhythm section (“continuo” in Baroque-speak) moves from structured foundation under the orchestra to a goading crowd behind the soloist.
The halting spiccato and smoother arpeggios of the second movement sound ironically tender in the midst of this assault. They also seem to inspire more carefully crafted solos in the third movement, with the soloist entering on a meticulously detailed ascent followed by icy plunges.
That first movement remains a hard act to follow. Granted, violinist Federico Guglielmo and his band play up the visceral side of this work, but no matter what the interpretation, Vivaldi’s solo always come out sounding like a beast on a bender. Fellow thrasher and longhaired redhead Dave Mustaine would be proud.