Quite by chance I heard the first band on this CD, the opening Allegro movement of Vivaldi's bassoon concerto, RV 481, on BBC Radio 3's program, 'CD Review,' and I was immediately struck by the brio and winning confidence of the playing of soloist and ensemble alike. I'm not generally a huge fan of Vivaldi, particularly in his chug-a-chug mode, and although this first movement is one of those passages, the playing here was so infectious that I had to hear the whole thing. I was not disappointed. The following movement, for instance, a Larghetto with lots of double-dotting played with equally extraordinary ferocity and rough good humor by bassoonist Sergio Azzolino, won me over completely. Azzolino, a one-time pupil of the master bassoonist, Klaus Thunemann, is a marvelous player who combines secure technique with dramatic flair. The CD contains a total of six concerti, three for solo bassoon, two for solo oboe (played by Hans Peter Westermann, Azzolino's equal) and one double concerto for both soloists. Of course, Vivaldi wrote many concerti for these instruments and one might think they tend to sound alike (and indeed they all DO sound like Vivaldi!) but they each have their own felicities. In the A minor oboe concerto, RV 461, for instance, the long lines of the oboe solo are accompanied by violins and violas only. The justly famous bassoon concerto, RV 501, called 'La Notte,' is in five movements played without interruption leading to the evocative 'Sorge l'aurora' ('Sunrise'), another of Vivaldi's nonpareil tone pictures. The double concerto, RV 545, has lovely combinations of the two instruments, as well as clever canonic writing.
The soloists (as well as the players in the string ensemble, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca) play baroque instruments. I particularly liked the sound of the baroque organ (Gianpietro Rosato) featured at times in the continuo. The solo double-reed instruments have an appealing huskier sound than that of modern instruments. This really seems to fit the heartiness of Vivaldi's music. Perhaps that's one reason I liked this CD so much--the sound seems appropriate to the pastoral and rustic effects of Vivaldi's music.
There are many other recordings of these concerti (including a wonderful double-CD played by Thunemann on a modern instrument) and I've heard many of them, but I like these performances best.