Vivaldi’s cello sonatas are a very different kettle of fish to his concerti. Far less virtuosic and consciously “public”, intended for consumption at intimate gatherings – until recently their lighter technical demands confined them to practice rooms or amateur performance.
Their form follows the plan of the classic Corellian chamber sonata; four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast while the austere simplicity of the writing providing a framework on which to drape lavish fabrics of improvisatory flourishes and ornaments tailored to the capabilities of performers.
The six sonatas here were published as a set in 1740 without the composer’s consent – the excellent booklet essay traces their murky provenance – the dodgy first edition thankfully now corrected from a Venetian manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Jean-Guihen Queyras reveals his affection for the works since his Provençal childhood in a booklet interview, which the resulting recording confirms. He and his co-musicians gussy up the bare torsos with silken brocades and sparkling decorations yet without overdressing the models. His ornamentation is tasteful and natural with no jarring anachronisms, sounding spontaneous yet inevitable with the occasional bold gesture of a skittering run or the subtlest shake on a line like a genial twinkle of the eye.
The basso continuo of cello, theorbo and harpsichord or organ is nicely varied from movement to movement as the mood dictates from bare cello to full ensemble, but always modest and not over-orchestrating the accompaniment.
Specific delights abound; the wistful opening of RV47 with the pensive tootling organ before the sheer delight of its second Allegro, the bold assertion of RV43 with the thrumming theorbo of its first Allegro, the lovely cantilena of RV46’s two largos. Lightweight material this may well be, but it would be a curmudgeon who could not be charmed. These elegant performances will supplement if not supersede my reference recordings: the exquisite Bruno Cocset and Le Basse Réunies on Alpha or the cooler but comprehensive 2CD set of Jaap ter Linden and Lars Ulrik Mortensen on Brilliant.
The recording quality is detailed but a little too close for comfort with audible breathing, rustling and finger noise – a lower than usual replay level solved the issue. Queyras has rearranged the published order to make a satisfying program so armed with a glass of something delicious this will be an ideal disc for late night contemplation.
Composition: Sonatas for Cello and Basso Continuo
Performer: Jean-Guihen Queyras vc, Michael Behringer kbd, Lee Santana theorbo, Christoph Dangel vc
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM902278
Jean-Guihen Queyras’ Vivaldi disc, out now on Harmonia Mundi, is Limelight‘s Recording of the Month in November. Read our interview with the cellist here.