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Featured Selection: Complete Works of Antonio Vivaldi's Italian Lute

The MHS Review 393 Vol. 11 No. 15, 1987

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Frank Cooper


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The archlute is a large but lightweight, long­necked, gut-strung instrument with a pear­shaped body. Its size (nearly six feet from stem to stem) belies a nonassertive and delicate sound. When a lute recording is played at the right level (about half the level you'd think of playing a classical guitar recording), you get magical results; and you understand why playing the lute was, in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, an accomplishment of truly refined gentlefolk.

On this recording one of the few really great archlute players in the world gives us more than our money's worth. Jakob Lind­berg, a lanky young man of poetic mien and perfectly controlled fingers, has style. His research into the manner of realizing Vivaldi's intentions with regard to the lute produces some of the most elegant melodic phrasing and convincing articulation to be heard. His chosen tempi are right on the button for this music. When the time comes for a bit of add­ed ornamentation, Lindberg does just enough so that it seems both spontaneous and entirely unaffected. His collaborators, the ten-member Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble and Monica Huggett, join in as if to the manner born and as if the ink were still wet on the page.

The works on this release, two concerti and two trios, are in the Red Priest's usual, surefire, three-movement format: fast-slow­fast. One, the Concerto in D major, has a poig­nant Largo which will be recognized, I believe, as the former theme music (about 15 years back) for the CBS Morning News (or was it the Evening News?). It is a ravishing little item. Another is the Trio in C major which I greeted with another flash of recognition (from an earlier MHS release, perhaps). Together with the Trio in G major, these three works were among those composed in the early 1730s, when Vivaldi was in Bohemia. They are dedicated to the lute-loving Count Jan Josef Vrtba, about whom little else is known.

The Concerto in D major for viola d'amore and lute was a Venetian work of 1740 (Vivaldi was back at home) which was played before the visiting 18-year-old Elector Prince of Sax­ony. He thought enough of the piece (and three others Vivaldi composed for his visit) to take along a manuscript copy when he returned to Dresden. That explains how the work has come down to us, no copy of it ever having been found in Italy. Its peculiar loveliness lies in the alliance of the plucky lute and the sustained, shimmery sound of the viola d'amore's sympathetically vibrating strings. Try the Largo and you will know what I mean.

Recommended wholeheartedly!

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