VIVALDI Flute Concertos
In a world with no shortage of Vivaldi recorder concerto discs, avoiding the routine is a must. Some fail, some try too hard, but the staggeringly talented Maurice Steger finds an excellent balance here, first by his thoughtful selection of pieces and then by the specific interpretative care he gives to each of them.
Selection first: we get the well-known descriptive concertos Il gardellino (in its colourful ‘chamber’ version), La notte (in its ‘orchestral’ Op 10 version) and La pastorella; we get the famous ‘sopranino’ RV443, though transcribed down a fourth on to descant, as Vivaldi himself seems to have sanctioned; we get the recorder gamboling among friends in the ‘molti stromenti’ concerto RV566 and in the chamber concerto RV103; and we get Steger’s own transcription of a violin concerto, RV375, apparently done for the simple reason that he wanted some different technical and musical challenges.
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. RV443, which can sound toy-like and gimmicky at its higher pitch, here comes across with new depth and variety of detail, releasing some big rubato gestures in the first movement and setting the lutes glinting like lights on the water in the slow second. RV375 offers the recorder a dignified and ‘grown-up’ new solo setting. I Barrocchisti, an orchestra whose joie de vivre never sleeps, are the perfect partners. It’s pure pleasure.