The complete viola d’amore concertos
Rachel Barton Pine, viola d’amore
The viola d’amore is, according to Leopold Mozart, «a special kind of violin that sounds especially beautiful in the stillness of the night» but, differently from the violin, it has not a particularly brilliant sound and was never standardized, so that the final result depended on the builder’s skill. This instrument was highly fashionable during XVII and XVIII centuries and many important composers wrote works for it: Bach, Telemann, Gluck, Haydn, Locatelli and Toeschi among the others – and of course Antonio Vivaldi, to whom the present recording is devoted.
Vivaldi wrote some of the earliest known works for viola d’amore. His first recorded connection with this instrument is dated to 1708 and 1709, when he was paid to supply viola d’amore strings by the Pio Ospedale della Pietà in Venice (an orphanage for young girls which was provided also with a conservatory where the composer taught), but his knowledge with the instrument probably dates back to twenty years ago. The first datable work for viola d’amore was composed in 1716 and included in the oratorio Juditha triumphans, written for the same Pio Ospedale and later he composed also Nisi Dominum and the eight viola d’amore concertos recorded here.
Vivaldi probably guessed the commercial opportunity to compose for a popular instrument and to teach it. One of his pupils and possible dedicatee of several concertos, both for viola d’amore and violin, was one of the girls of the Pio Ospedale, the celebrated Anna Maria dal Violin (this surname replaces her unknown family name), who attained fame as a violinist and violinist teacher but also a cello, lute, harpsichord, mandolin and oboe virtuosa. The viola d’amore concertos which seem to be dedicated to her are RV393 and RV397, were “AMore” is written in capital letters in the title and may allude to Anna Maria as their soloist.
The viola d’amore sound is definitely more relaxing than the sound of the violin and, in comparison with it, it may appear dull and pale – but, if you forget the violin for a while, the richness and sweetness of the ancient instrument cannot fail to be stunning, especially when it is played with the passion and enthusiasm of Rachel Barton Pine, one of the modern passionate of this instrument and, moreover, a violin virtuosa.
Vivaldi’s exquisite and light concertos are the best music for Pine. She plays a 1774 Nicola Gagliano 12-string viola d’amore that sounds romantic and pensive and nonetheless gives prominence to vivacity and other joyful feelings. Pine’s viola d’amore is a “youthful” instrument as it stresses delicate and naive feelings that maybe later in life will be forgotten, something that draws a parallel with the fate of the viola d’amore, which has been deserted at a certain stage of musical history but that from time to time arouses the interest of one musician or another. Vivaldi’s concertos are cheerful and Pine and the Ars Antigua ensemble are careful to avoid any nostalgic shade while performing them, although some hints of it seems to appear from time to time, and make the concertos extremely enjoyable and lively.