This is Vivaldi's second opera (at least that we know of), performed for the first time in 1714, the same year that his amazing set of 12 violin concertos called "La stravaganza" appeared. Already known as a knockout composer for violin, Vivaldi clearly had no intention of disappointing those who admired him for his string writing just because he was becoming a composer of operas–and anyone listening to Orlando finto pazzo will have to notice the virtuoso string playing in addition to the outrageous demands made on the singers. Argillano's first aria, sung with amazing speed and subtlety by mezzo Manuela Custer, ends with a violin cadenza that's so remarkable that the audience at the time must have been left (as we are) breathless.
The world of early 18th century opera was very different to that of, say, Mozart. The story was the thing. Librettos were offered to musicians as a means of getting the poetic drama before the public. Thus the great librettists were set multiple times. So it was with Vienna's imperial poet Metastasio's Catone in Utica. This story, set in the ancient Numidian city of Utica - now a ruin in Tunisia - involves the Roman Cato the Younger and his conflict with Julius Caesar. The plot itself is the usual mixture of love and betrayal, but because it was by Metastasio there were at least two settings, by Vinci and Hasse, even before Vivaldi composed the present piece.
This recording is part of the Naïve label's Vivaldi Edition, a complete recording, scheduled to run to 100 discs, of a trove of Vivaldi manuscripts unearthed at the library of the National University of Turin. The recordings have been divided up among various mostly young Italian Baroque interpreters, with a pleasing variety of approaches.
After the violin and bassoon, Vivaldi apparently like the cello best as a solo instrument. Because while the Italian Baroque master wrote somewhere over 200 violin concertos and 39 bassoon concertos, he also wrote 28 cello concertos. Part of his special affection may come from the fact that Vivaldi himself seems to have invented the genre. Although there had been passages for solo cello in earlier composers' works, Vivaldi apparently wrote the first actual concertos featuring the cello throughout. This disc, the first in Naïve's Vivaldi's Edition's releases of all the concertos played by Christophe Coin with Il Giardino Armonico led by Giovanni Antonini, is an easy winner. The veteran French cellist has a nuanced tone, a powerful technique, a penetrating intellect, and a gift for sustaining a long line and all of these qualities come into play in these performances. With the able and agile support of the Italian period-instrument chamber orchestra, Coin makes every movement of every concerto distinct – and distinctly appealing – each with its own lyrical melodies, graceful harmonies, and instantly infectious rhythms. Recorded in clear, warm, and direct sound, this is as fine a disc as has been released in Naïve's outstanding Vivaldi Edition – which, considering the quality of the other releases, is high praise indeed.
Venetian liturgical music of the early 18th century tended to be indistinguishable from opera except that the texts were sacred rather than theatrical, allowing congregations to hear the same kinds of displays of flamboyant virtuosity they could expect in the opera house (and often with the same singers). Vivaldi's two settings of the Gloria, both in D major and both from 1715, are no exceptions to that trend, and offer a spectacular showcase for soloists. This Naïve release, part of its Vivaldi Edition, features the singers and players of Concerto Italiano, led by its founder Rinaldo Alessandrini, and contralto Sara Mingardo. Alessandrini's mastery in this repertoire is evident in the supple elegance of the performances, his keen sense of pacing, and particularly in the nuanced balance of the choral parts.
La stravaganza was Vivaldi's second published set of concertos and was issued sometime between 1712 and 1715. In a characteristically interesting and informative note Michael Talbot explains that La stravaganza or ''Extravagance'' should be understood as wandering outside the boundaries of convention in respect both of melody and harmony. Unlike the earlier L'estro armonico (Op. 3), La stravaganza contains only concertos for solo violin though occasionally, as for example in the seventh concerto Vivaldi brings additional instruments to the fore. Perhaps the set is a little uneven in quality but the finest things here should fire the imagination and arouse the passions of most listeners.
Antonio Vivaldi was one of the most successful composers of the Baroque era, best known for his iconic set concertos for violin, The Four Seasons. L’Estro Armonico Op.3 is among the most important printed editions of Vivaldi’s concertos; the works immediately met with great acclaim after their publication in 1711, giving way to over 30 reprints in the subsequent 32 years.