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.
Concerto No. 11 in D Major
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 4, “La Stravaganza”
Soloist: Simon Standage (with Micaela Comberti, RIP, on second violin)
Ensemble: The English Concert, dir. Trevor Pinnock
This concerto could land a plane on a runway during a blackout:
Two soloists (in a collection of concertos for single soloist) are off to the races from the start, and the comparatively reserved, symmetrical ritornello pulls things back just to let them rocket further and faster every time. It’s a hell of a ride, but the central movement steals the show (no mean task, starting at 2:50). The soloist glides over a simple accompaniment as though stepping from one cloud to the next, with an arching reflection over a soft, pulsating bass line and rippling chords. It’s a characteristically Vivaldian moment that just “works” regardless of soloist, instrumentation or interpretation. The music is that clear, that poignant.
Vivaldi does his best to finish strong, but the third and final movement (starting at 4:38) feels like a convention rather than a conclusion. Its bouncy theme is fun, but the closing Allegro Assai lacks the pathos of the previous movement and the freewheeling thematic development of the first. It’s a good old-fashioned ride into the sunset after the actual story has been told. Two out of three ain’t bad, and in this case it would have been enough.