... Vivaldi wrote thirty-nine! That's the number established as authentic by Sergio Azzolini and his vast network of musicological Nibelungen, though I've heard other estimates and there's also "hope" than a ream of others will be discovered in an attic in Prague or Bolzano. It appears that Azzolini and the ensemble L'Aura Soave Cremona have undertaken to record all thirty-nine; I'll be waited with bated breath ... though bating one's breath is never a good idea for a bassoonist. Sergio Azzolini is the baroque bassoonist sans pareil of the moment; he fingers his hefty double-tubed beast of an instrument with the dexterity of a recorderist, but his bassoon also sings madrigals. The capacity to sing suave melodies, to imitate the inflections of a human voice, is what distinguishes the baroque bassoon from the modern. Honestly, I know that the modern bassoon could also sing madrigals but its place in the orchestra has restricted and specialized it, so that most players never cultivate its full emotive range. Vivaldi was not, as far as anyone has discovered, himself a bassoonist; he was a violinist, and in fact the "French" bassoon of the type Azzolini plays had not yet achieved any vogue in North Italy during Vivaldi's early career. The bassenello/dulcian/curtal was still in common use in venice long after it had been replaced by the bassoon in Transalpine lands. Vivaldi's bassoon concerti, therefore, were mostly composed in his later decades, after he'd made contact with the musicians at the Court in Dresden. Thus they are among his most mature works, written with a desperate energy and phantasmagorical inventiveness by a composer who understand his own greatness but who felt that he hadn't achieved the status he deserved.
I've already reviewed Volume 2 of this "complete" recording project: Concerti Per Fagotto II
Ensemble L'Aura Soave Cremona, directed by Diego Cantalupi, performs Vivaldi with an audacity and exuberance that may well startle listeners accustomed to earlier, more moderate interpretations. This is Vivaldi with his red hair flying loose. The tempi are assertive and irregular, with the grandest possible emphasis of cadences and cadential silences. The basso continuo for this performance was formidably "basso", with two cellos, contrabass, two arch-lutes, and organ; the whole orchestration is deepened in tessitura so that the bassoon can in effect sing treble. The result is an integration of solo and tutti unlike any other recorded performance of any of the Vivaldi wind concerti. If your ingrained perception of Vivaldi is of a composer of jaunty 'elevator music, you'll quickly discover that you were all wrong. Vivaldi was big. Vivaldi was bold.
One warning, however. This recording has been engineered to reveal the richest timbres of the bass instruments. The lower range of sounds is so dense with frequencies that you must play the CD on a system with adequate speakers and preferably with a good sub-woofer. If you listen to it on bookshelf speakers, or on a mediocre system, I fear you'll be dissatisfied; all you'll hear will be rumble and distortion, and you'll wonder whether "your humble reviewer" has lost his ear.
But wait! What about the other eleven finest bassoon concerti? How about: Reichenauer, Michael Haydn, JC Bach, Mozart, Stamitz, Hummel, Weber, Villa-Lobos, Hindemith, Jolivet, & Gubaidulina.