Vivaldi’s sonatas for violin and continuo follow his volume of trio sonatas, which, like these, paid homage to the acknowledged master of the form, Arcangelo Corelli, but staked out new, personal territory. Michael Talbot’s notes trace the origins of these sonatas in duets and various changes in their editions’ title pages if not thoroughgoingly in the nature of their conception.
Antonio Vivaldi’s fame as an opera composer is due in now small part to his incredible industry. He composed around 50 operas, and of these around 16 have survived complete – several substantial fragments of others have also survived. It is for his instrumental music that he remains one of the major baroque composers – on a par with Handel and J.S. Bach, however, in the world of opera at the time, only one other composer rivalled Vivaldi in the use of orchestral colour and the way in which the human voice was blended with the accompaniment. The writing for voice generally is on a very high level. The rival was of course Handel, and Vivaldi also was a considerable impressario as was his German/British colleague.
Vivaldi’s Griselda, one of more than twenty operas, is based on a story retold in Boccaccio’s Il decamerone about the testing of Griselda’s patience and virtue by her royal husband through a series of cruel trials. The sense of drama that permeates many of Vivaldi’s more programmatic works, such as the Four Seasons, is very naturally carried over into his operas, especially with the use of so-called ‘simile’ arias, in which an emotional state is compared with various natural phenomena.
Amazing to think in these days of plenty, when Vivaldi's sun has surely never shone brighter, that there can still be examples of his 660 or so concertos which have yet to be heard on record, but this invaluable set contains one such work, the G minor concerto RV459, as well as all the other works which the Venetian composer originally wrote for an instrument for which he evidently conceived a great affection, well suited as it is to the virtuoso roulades and trills which distinguish his writing for his own instrument, the violin, as well as testing the soloist with great demands on breath control in the fast outer movements and lyrical intensity in the central slow ones.
Linn's Vivaldi: L'Amore per Elvira, featuring the English group La Serenissima under the direction of Adrian Chandler, has quite a bit to offer the Vivaldi fancier. First are Chandler's excellent reconstructions of two of the fragmentary "Graz" violin sonatas that have not come down with their continuo parts intact. Chandler has filled in the missing music with entirely satisfactory replacements that appear to be seamlessly Vivaldian, rendering these works into a listenable form for the first time.
The task of picking "essential masterpieces" for a big-box collection like this is essentially futile. Sure, one could complain that restricting the vocal music to the two Gloria settings distorts Vivaldi's output severely, but any selection would cause complaints - and the compilers could point out that it was instrumental concertos that made Vivaldi popular and instrumental concertos on which his popularity rests. Furthermore, the recordings featured here, mostly by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, are, in many cases, those that turned Vivaldi into an industry - they were the backbone of programming on NPR, the BBC, and their counterparts in other countries for years.