It was only a matter of time before Yo-Yo Ma turned to Vivaldi, the first of the great composers to take the cello seriously as a soloist. Strange to relate, however, in this latest cheery get-together with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra only three of its 11 pieces – the Double Concerto RV531, and the two solo concertos RV401 and 423 – were written for the cello. The others are all arrangements, from the appropriation of the slow movement of ‘Winter’, to the recasting of vocal numbers for colourful combinations of winds and strings, to the transfor-mation of the beautiful Concerto for viola d’amore and lute, RV540, into a slightly less magical concerto for cello and organ.
Ma claims to have done it for the sake of variety, in particular variety of colour. While a cynic might suggest that commercially-minded reasoning has led to ‘Winter’ and the cello-duet version of the Gloria’s ‘Laudamus te’, the roles given in several pieces to wind instruments probably do make for a more attractive package than, say, half a dozen concertos scored uniformly for cello and strings.
Koopman, whose arrangements these are, also claims that no one in Vivaldi’s day would have thought twice about such things. Maybe he is right. RV540 apart, they are perfectly convincing, and you would have to be a sour old grouch to object to them for long when they are played as expertly, as joyously and as lovingly as they are here. For these are first and foremost excellent performances which celebrate Vivaldi for the vital and exhilarating composer he was, and in which a cello just happens to be the lead player. And, superb though Ma is on his ‘baroqued’ 1712 Stradivarius, each of the musicians listed above is on top form as well, with my personal palm going to Katherine McGillivray’s exquisite viola d’amore and Jonathan Manson’s cello, matching Ma all the way in RV531 and ‘Laudamus te’.
An uncomplicated joy all round then, for its music, its performances and its recording, too, save only for the sometimes maddening prominence of the keyboard continuo. Fascinating as it is to get so close to the brilliant sparkbox that is Koopman’s brain, one does sometimes long for him to keep it quiet. Lindsay