The music of Antonio Vivaldi turned out to make successful business for the Amsterdam publisher Estienne Roger. The publication of both the Opus 3 collection L’estro armonico (harmonic inspiration) and the Opus 4 collection La stravaganza (the extravagance) turned out to be best sellers for their time. Eager to get more milk out of this cash cow, in 1720 Roger published another collection of twelve concertos as Opus 7. Ten of these were violin concertos, and the other two were for oboe. Recent scholarship has suggested that Vivaldi may not have been the composer of any of these concertos, meaning that Roger had discovered that he could make just as much money in selling the name as in selling the music actually composed by the name.
Regardless of such questions of authenticity, Brilliant Classics has decided to release a two-CD recording of this Opus 7 as the latest “excerpt” from their more comprehensive Vivaldi Edition collection. As with the previous releases, the ensemble is the chamber orchestra L’Arte dell’Arco led by concertmaster Federico Guglielmo, who is also the soloist in the violin concertos. The soloist in the oboe concertos is Pier Luigi Fabretti.
When this site wrote about Guglielmo’s performance of the Opus 4 concertos, it cast his approach to the “extravagant” virtuosity of this music in a most favorable light. Guglielmo never shows the slightest bit of strain when he is taking on even the most challenging of Vivaldi’s virtuoso solo passages. Furthermore, his overall rhetorical stance to this body of music is one of “enthusiastic vigor” (the wording previously used). As one fortunate enough to have experienced some excellent performances of Vivaldi concertos in concert, I feel I have some grounds for saying that the right blend of technical superiority and an engaging rhetorical stance can make even the most familiar of Vivaldi compositions a thrilling experience.
This suggests a corollary that would probably make many purists cringe: A violinist who can give a convincing account of a “Vivaldi performance,” even when the music may not actually be by Vivaldi, deserves as much attention as one only willing to perform “authentic” Vivaldi scores. In many ways this is a reductio ad absurdum of a precept frequently evoked on this site: The music is “in the making,” rather than in any marks on paper that may have to be consulted as part of the practice of performance. In other words performance is more about creating a “Vivaldi experience” than about delivering a “faithful interpretation” of a Vivaldi score. In other words Roger decided that he could make just as much money by selling materials for creating new “Vivaldi experiences” was he could by selling new Vivaldi scores.
Consider the question of whether Vivaldi was conscientious about repeating himself. There are any number of virtuoso tropes that recall other Vivaldi concertos. However, in Opus 7 one occasionally encounters motifs that can possibly be traced back to earlier collections. Would Vivaldi actually have done this, or is this one of the attributes that makes the Opus 7 a questionable one? It is unlikely that we shall ever know enough about Vivaldi’s work practices to provide a satisfactory answer to this question; but, if the performance is highly satisfying in its own right, why should we bother? Guglielmo takes us on another wild ride both as soloist and as conductor for Fabretti on this new recording, and there is no compelling reason why we cannot all just kick back and enjoy that ride.