Classical CD Reviews
VIVALDI: Seven Cello Concertos – Han-Na Chang, cello/ London Chamber Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green - EMI Classics
Published on February 13, 2009
VIVALDI: Seven Cello Concertos – Han-Na Chang, cello/London Chamber Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green – EMI Classics 2 34791 0, 67:41 ****:
While acknowledged as a master of the violin repertory, Antonio Vivaldi’s repute with the cello remains ambiguous, given that his violoncello da spalla was a small version of the instrument which one played against the body, a design long extinct. Yet Vivaldi composed some thirty concertos for the instrument, over a period that extends from c. 1707 to the late 1730s. If the early works partake of a uniform, rhythmic syntax, the late works enjoy a diversity of mood, registration, and digital articulation. But even the earliest of these works recorded by Han-Na Chang (26-29 June 2008), the A Minor, RV 420, exhibits a plastic, Lombardic rhythm and brisk, feline pulse that mark the composer’s singing passions throughout his creative career.
If the RV 420 maintains a rather simple accompaniment in the continuo, the C Major, RV 400 (c. 1724) engages in an intense dialogue with the solo, tutti, and upper strings. Gay, tripping figures alternate with breezy, bravura runs and quick ornaments in the solo cello. The lighthearted strings carry the melody with the cello. The studied Largo plays like a cello sonata–moreover, a church sonata–with an organ continuo (Helena Brown). Swooping strings announce the dramatic Allegro non troppo, Han-Na Chang plays in harmonics and near the bridge as well, while the tutti hit the wood, col legno. A real tour de force, this little gem. The C Minor Concerto, RV 401 opens with a most unusual sonority, the strings having been divided so second violins and violas read from the alto clef, while the first violins play low from the soprano clef. Rather somber if not outright melancholy, this piece projects a unity of dark affect almost liturgical in character. The last movement will remind auditors of “Winter” from The Four Seasons.
The Concerto in E-flat Major, RV 408 would seem to date in the early 1720s, since it quotes from a cantata of Vivaldi’s tenure in Mantua, 1718-1720. Spirited in the outer
movements with decided, bouncing rhythms, its middle movement Largo in C Minor takes an early violin sonata (in D Minor, RV 12) for its own use. This aria allows Chang to strut a full-throated cantabile of eloquent beauty. The blistering pyrotechnics of the finale should have Vivaldi fans tapping their feet and shuddering their heads to breathless figures that leap from Vivaldi’s page. A blithe confidence of style marks the RV 424 in B Minor, an expansive piece like its gloomier sister in C Minor, RV 401. The chromatic Largo sings right out of opera, a lilting harpsichord (Helena Brown) and long-held bass notes accompanying. The last movement is a typically “busy” Allegro, moody and spirited at once.
Elements of the French style for jagged rhythms infiltrates the D Major Concerto, RV 403. It opens like a suite from Lully, except that Chang saws away in a glib, shifting style not far from Haydn’s C Major Concerto. The smug Andante e spiritoso middle movement swaggers and struts in a manner Mozart would admire. Simple harmony and counterpoint mark the last movement, a definite precursor to the pre-Classical style that Bach’s sons would soon adopt for their musical expression. The cello’s roulades play like the Viotti style transposed to the deeper instrument. Finally, Chang plays the A Minor Concerto, RV 418, a late-period composition that looks to the rough-hewn textures and choppy rhythms of Vivaldi’s works prior to 1720. The Largo projects a ‘romantic’ ethos, its harmonic moves a missing link from the Baroque to Faure. Divided strings and peppy energy for the last movement Allegro, in which Chang tosses out innumerable flurries before her soaring ascent to a high E in the course of a thrilling finale.