With so many headline Baroque violinists to choose from - Goebel, Biondi, Manze, Holloway, to say nothing of the second fiddlers in their various ensembles - Giuliano Carmignola has never been my first choice. His tone has always seemed blunt and his phrasing arbitrary, and there have been occasional tuning issues on other recordings. In fact, I just gave his performance of the 'Four Seasons' a fairly lukewarm review about a week ago. Well, with this performance of five glorious Vivaldi concerti, Carmignola has won me over by his sheer bravura. I can "hear" him standing before the orchestra like the Red Priest incarnate, flinging argeggios of demi-hemi-semiquavers like confetti. The tuning problems are gone. The phrasing seems capricious rather than contrived. Released in 2006, this is easily Carmignola's most impressive recording. To my mind, he's arrived.
The five concerti on this CD have never, according to the booklet, been recorded before. Vivaldi wrote at least 240 violin concerti, so the claim is plausible. None of them are familiar, and I've heard a lot of Vivaldi in my life. The amazing thing is that all five are exceptional. Even by Vivaldi's standards, they're eccentric and inventive, especially RV 190 in C major. If there are five more such masterworks still unrecorded - do you hear me, Giuliano? - I want them soon!
I can't wax so enthusiastic about the Venice Baroque Orchestra, however. Under the heavy baton of Andrea Marcon, the orchestra at times comes near spoiling my pleasure in Carmignola's fiery virtuosity. VBO seems to think that Vivaldi fans expect a big bow-wow most of the time, the kind of orchestral texture that can be enjoyed on a car radio in traffic. Perhaps it's the effect of studio recording, but I hear too little transparency and too much acoustic compression. Previous VBO disks have been spoiled for me by such a ponderous sound, but this disk is all about Carmignola, and he triumphs over his orchestral environment.