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Piccolo Recorder Concerto in C major, RV 443 (transcribed for vibraphone)
Composed: date unknown
Length: 11 minutes
Orchestration: strings, harpsichord, and solo recorder (vibraphone)
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Antonio Vivaldi's concertos cut a revolutionary swath through the more fustian rituals of high Baroque music in much the way that minimalism gutted academic serialism 250 years later. They standardized the fast-slow-fast movement scheme that has survived as the classic concerto pattern, and developed the ritornello form (in which a refrain for the ensemble alternates with free episodes for the soloist), using it as a vehicle for thematic integration and elaboration. Vivaldi's 500-plus concertos were athletic entertainments that swept continental Europe, influencing not only younger composers, but causing a wave of stylistic conversion in older ones.
This concerto, originally for the flautino (sopranino or piccolo recorder), is a fresh, sassy case in point. The opening refrain presents the basic material - five bars doing nothing but iterating the home key of C, eight bars of rising sequences, and another five bars reconfirming C - in antiphonal call-and-response. The soloist immediately takes off on a flight of figural variation, with little thematic interjections from the ensemble. Vivaldi was a master of pattern variation, rephrasing and redirecting arpeggios and scales, and each of the soloist's modulating episodes shifts the melodic-rhythmic perspective of these basic units, before ending with a restatement of the refrain finally back in C.
The little slow movement is a binary meditation, a poignant solo reverie in E minor over a throbbing bass line, with characteristic touches such as irregular phrase length and luxuriant filigree. The finale returns to ritornello form, with a distinctive emphasis on trills and triplets.
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Director of Publications.