Top 10 Vivaldi recordings

Gramophone Thu 11th February 2016

Ten of the best Vivaldi recordings, including Gramophone Award-winners and Editor's Choice albums

Antonio Vivaldi – the Red Priest

Antonio Vivaldi – the Red Priest

'The Four Seasons bids fair to being the most popular classical piece of all time. There have been at least 200 recordings, and counting, and it continues to be irresistible to TV advertisers and mobile phone companies. It is piped promiscuously as telephone-hold music and into shopping malls from Buenos Aires to Bombay, and it has even infiltrated the American pop charts. Yet such is the Seasons’ picturesque charm and visceral energy that it has survived unscathed more than half a century of kitsch and commercialisation. 

The Gloria, RV589, meanwhile, with its trumpeting opening and infectiously bouncy setting of ‘Domine fili unigenite’, is perennially popular with choral societies. Assorted concertos for flute, for one or more violins – the works that sealed Vivaldi’s European fame – and an ear-tickling concerto for lute, crop up regularly in concert. Countertenors from James Bowman to Andreas Scholl have helped popularise the hauntingly melancholic F minor Stabat mater, RV621. And yet…Beyond a handful of favourites, Vivaldi has long remained more or less uncharted territory for the floating voter. Despite the impassioned advocacy of specialists, he has been too easily viewed as an engaging lightweight who inevitably pales before the twin Titans of the Baroque, Bach and Handel.' (Richard Wigmore, Gramophone, November 2011)

In the list below we recommend some of the finest recordings of Vivaldi's music, from the well known to the rarely heard (but no less beautiful).

'The French Connection'

La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler

(Avie)

'Here the three solo instruments come and go in various combinations, always pleasing us and never outstaying their welcome. They are played with skill and taste, lapsing only when the bassoon overpowers the flute in the slow movement of RV438. The orchestral sound, as always with La Serenissima, achieves bright attractiveness and vivacity without feeling the need to pursue the taut energy of some other groups. And that’s just fine...' Read the review

Vespri Solenni per la Festa dell'Assunzione di Maria Vergine

Soloists, Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Alessandrini

(Naïve Opus 111)

'No, not the "Vivaldi Vespers", nor even a reconstruction of a specific event, but a kind of "sacred concert" in Vespers form, of the sort that Venetian churches in Vivaldi’s time – ever aware of the power of music to swell a congregation – were wont to mount in the name of worship. Whether or not Vivaldi ever supplied all of the music for any such occasion is not clear – no complete integrated cycle exists – but he certainly set plenty of Vespers texts, enough at any rate for Rinaldo Alessandrini and scholar Frédéric Delaméa to put together this rich programme of delights...' Read the review

Violin Concertos, Op 4, La Stravaganza

Arte dei Suonatori / Rachel Podger vn

(Channel Classics)

'The performances by Rachel Podger are crackling with vitality and executed with consistent brilliance as well as a kind of relish in virtuosity that catches the showy spirit, the self-conscious extravagance, of this particular set of works. There are plenty of movements here where her sheer digital dexterity is astonishing – I might cite the finale of No 6, with its scurrying figures, the second movement of No 7 (the only four-movement concerto), the finale of No 2 with its repetitive figures and leaping arpeggios, the witty sallies in that of No 3, and the simple rapidity in No 11 – or indeed half a dozen others.' Read the review

Il Proteo – Double and Triple Concertos

Christophe Coin vc Il Giardino Armonico

(Teldec)

'Playing of vitality and lyricism brings Vivaldi's music to life in a thrilling manner. Indeed, the integrity and musicianly character of these performances is in no small measure heightened by the presence of Christophe Coin. This new release is excellent in every respect: fine music, fine playing and a fine recording. An outstanding issue...' Read the review

Stabat mater

Andreas Scholl; Ensemble 415 / Banchini

(Harmonia Mundi)

'Unlike settings of the Stabat mater by Pergolesi and some others, Vivaldi used only the first ten of the 20 stanzas of the poem. His deeply expressive setting of the poem will be familiar to many readers but few will have heard such an affecting performance as Scholl achieves here. The lyrical prayer of human yearning for faith contained in the “Fac ut ardeat” movement is most tenderly sung and here, as throughout the programme, sympathetically supported by the strings of Ensemble 415 under Chiara Banchini’s experienced direction.' Read the review

Orlando Furioso

Sols; Choeur Les Eléments & Ensemble Matheus / Jean-Christophe Spinosi

(Naïve)

'Like Handel a few years later in London, Vivaldi must have been inspired by the peculiarly intense situations experienced by Orlando and Alcina, and the score has a dramatic stature greater than most of his other operas – although if Opus 111 continue to produce revelations like this, I may be forced to eat my words. This is a magnificent achievement, and one of the pinnacles of Opus 111’s monumental Vivaldi Edition. If Vivaldi needed a champion to more firmly establish his credentials as a fully-fledged opera composer, then this recording is it.' Read the review

'The Vivaldi Album'

Cecilia Bartoli; Il Giardino Armonico

(Decca)

'Coarse-voiced period brass instruments herald Bartoli's riding of some particularly squally waves as tempest racks land and heart in 'Dopo un'orrida procella' from Griselda. The aria unleashes Bartoli's famous breathy, whispered coloratura, her flaming top register, and an enclosed, hollow chest-voice which seems to belong to neither of the other two...' Read the review

The Four Seasons

La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler vn

(Avie)

'The group’s founder and violinist/director Adrian Chandler is not only steeped in the musical language of Baroque Italy, both vocal and instrumental; he is also fully conversant with its humanist wellsprings. Vivaldi’s sonnets and consequent programmatic signposting throughout the score are thus filtered through a more nuanced rhetorical vision that is more stage than page. The result is an intensely dramatic account that will add new spice to what has for many listeners perhaps come to resemble a dreary domestic relationship. Take, for example, the spacious birdsong, surging waters and thumping rustic dances of "Spring"; the languid heat and raging storms finding echoes in the cuckoo’s urgent call and the goldfinch’s stratospheric sweetness in "Summer"; the drunkard’s erratic progress mirrored in the hunters’ ebullience and the hunted’s tragic flight in "Autumn"; and the elements’ implacable indifference in "Winter"...' Read the review

L'estro armonico

Brecon Baroque / Rachel Podger vn

(Channel Classics)

'What really shoots this recording straight to the top of the pile, however, is the sheer joy of it, the spontaneity and the tireless, surging musical energy of its many sudden feints and sallies. How grippingly, for instance, the tension climbs in the often rather polite first movement of No 4; how liltingly the off-beat theorbo strums add springy definition to the finale of No 5; and how invigoratingly the taught energy of those semiquavers in the No 3 finale finds release in a glorious chain of suspensions, and the witty interplay of the final bars spills over into a final-note twiddle that is pure natural exuberance...' Read the review

‘Concerti per flauto’

Maurice Steger rec/flautino I Barocchisti / Diego Fasolis

(Harmonia Mundi)

'As for the performances, there is not much to be said about Steger’s virtuosity other than that his dazzling fingerwork, varied articulation and colour seem to make him capable of anything he wants. What really makes this disc an outstanding one, however, is the way he creates an individual musical world for each concerto. Maybe that is to be expected in the descriptive ones, yet few others have matched his disturbingly spectral, lute-haunted La notte, and never have I heard a more pleasingly pastoral La pastorella, with its tasteful (yes, tasteful) additions of hurdy-gurdy, psaltery and, in the second movement, folk-style strings...' Read the review

Explore: 

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£64/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2017