The nine surviving cello sonatas by Vivaldi can be presumed to represent only a proportion of the number he probably wrote. I say that knowing that there is room for at least slight doubts as to the authenticity of all of them, especially no.6. Given his clear fondness for the instrument he surely wrote more. After all here was a composer who wrote many cello concertos, There was also the presence of a number of very fine cellists amongst the musicians of the Ospedale della Pièta niot to mention the growing vogue of the instrument in the Venice of his time.
He seems to have taken less trouble to preserve the manuscripts of his sonatas - for whatever solo instrument - than of some of his other music. Though he published two sets of violin sonatas (opp. 2, 5) he chose not to issue any of his sonatas for the cello. The first six to be published appeared in Paris in 1740, in what was surely a pirated edition.
The sonatas we do have very probably date from the 1720s. A few exist in more than one manuscript; none of them autograph. All are in four movements alternating in the sequence slow-fast-slow-fast, a pattern that we associate with the sonata da chiesa. A number of the faster movements are very much informed by the spirit of the dance; in one manuscript, the Wiesentheid, which contains two sonatas, such movements actually carry titles designating the relevant dance rhythms. The slow movements have a winning gravity, in which elegance and a serious quality are held in a beautiful balance.
The young French-Swiss cellist Ophélie Gaillard (b.1974) has already met with considerable success in her recordings of the Bach cello suites (Ambroisie AMB9926) and the Britten Sonatas (Ambroisie AMB9927). This recording of the complete Vivaldi sonatas will surely do her reputation nothing but good. She plays with great beauty of tone, sure-footed musical intelligence and considerable vivacity.
Gaillard plays a cello made by Francesco Goffriller at Udine in 1737, an instrument of which she speaks lovingly on the DVD which accompanies the two discs of the sonatas. From it she extracts sounds both brilliant and subtle – which one can appreciate fully on so well recorded a pair of CDs. Gaillard’s conception of the music is perhaps indicated by the very name of the group, Pulcinella, of which she appears to be director and which furnishes the excellent continuo work in this recording. The booklet notes - Gaillard’s own work? - observe of Pulcinella that he was “an emblematic figure of the commedia dell’arte, a delightful bon vivant who originated in Naples and is known in different countries as Punch (short for Punchinello), Polichinelle or Petrushka, also represents the soul of the people. With uncommon vitality and energy and extraordinary adaptability, he always faces up to adversity and is capable of extracting himself from the most difficult situations”. Much of this is communicated in Gaillard’s reading of the music. While these performances are not, in any sense, lacking in refinement, they are what one might call ‘democratic’ interpretations of Vivaldi. These are performances which seek to capture and communicate the rich Venetian atmosphere of the music, the ways in which it articulates what Byron called Venice’s “soft waves, … all musical to song”, praising it as a place where one might encounter “the luxurious and voluptuous flood / Of sweet sensations”. Much of that Venetian spirit is captured in these performances, not only because of Gaillard’s fine playing but also – and perhaps especially – because of the splendidly conceived and variously executed continuo playing of Pulcinella. The range of instruments drawn on for the basso continuo on this recording might, I suppose, have allowed for inappropriate and distracting colour or for mere gimmickry. But there is none of either to be heard here. The balance and dialogue of soloist and continuo are well-nigh perfect throughout and the changes of instrumentation serve primarily to clarify transitions of mood. The use of plucked instruments such as guitar, guitar battente - the instrument strung with wire - and harp, behind/underneath the cello produces some lovely effects.
I have enjoyed this recording greatly. It has a properly Italianate spirit of measured flamboyance and a consistent vision of the music. It is played with acute intelligence – and plenty of feeling – and is beautifully recorded.—Glyn Pursglove