The revival of the viola d'amore as an instrument distinct and separate from the viola is a well-established phenomenon, advanced by composers and performers alike at least since the 1920s. That doesn't mean, however, that there are a great many players of the viola d'amore around, nor are there nearly as many viola d'amores in existence to play, at least in a quantity relative to the number of violas that are out there. It is certainly an odd duck instrument; it has six or seven strings and a rank of sympathetic strings that vibrate along with the player, it puts out rich harmonics and has a mellow, somewhat nasal sound. Although it has earned a considerable number of nods from twentieth-century composers, its historical repertory is relatively small; Attilio Ariosti remains the all-time champion among Baroque composers for the viola d'amore, having written 21 sonatas for the instrument. Next in line is Antonio Vivaldi, with eight concertos and four arias with viola d'amore used in a concertante format. This Virgin Classics disc, Vivaldi: Concerto per Viola D'amore contains all of these concerti, of which the last is a double concerto for viola d'amore and lute, and these are performed by the group that probably constituted the state of the art in Vivaldi interpretation in 2007, Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante.
This CD was initially recorded in 1993 and was reissued in 2001. That is fortunate for those of us who missed it the first time around, for Paul Coletti has produced one of the finest recorded examples of viola playing to be found. Coupled with the sensitive and thoughtful piano playing of Leslie Howard, this makes for benchmark renditions of these musical gems. Hyperion's sound is gorgeous and perfectly balanced throughout. The listener is drawn into the music making, with all its expressive and tonal nuances.
Over the years I have heard many recordings of music written for the Imperial court in Vienna. That’s no wonder: Vienna was a centre of music-making in Europe. During the 17th and 18th centuries some of the best musicians and composers were in the service of the Habsburg emperors. Most of the recordings concentrate on music for violins or voice. This disc is different in that it presents music for viol consort. That’s all the more interesting, as it is often thought that in the 17th century consort music was only written in France and England. It is quite surprising that this kind of music was also written in Austria. Most musicians in the service of the Imperial court were from Italy, where the viol consort had gone out of fashion since the first quarter of the 17th century. The fact that Italian composers wrote music for viol consort was due to the personal preferences of the emperors, Ferdinand III and Leopold I, who also wrote some music for this kind of ensemble themselves.