Don Antonio Vivaldi’s concerti for recorder and orchestra have belonged to a recorderist’s standard repertoire ever since they were discovered. Some confusion was created by the term ‘flauto’ in the scores till it became clear that ‘flauto’ means ‘recorder’, whereas ‘flauto traverso’ is the baroque version of today’s ‘flute’. But Don Antonio adds another term to three of the concerti, namely ‘flautino’, ‘little recorder’, and musicologists and players have argued for the past 60 years or so what instrument is intended.
Only recently it has become clear that the instrument needed for the concerto RV.443 is a descant recorder and NOT a sopranino. On the first page of the original score Vivaldi has added a la quarta bassa, which means [to be played] a fourth lower, and that brings us to the conclusion that the whole score must be transposed one fourth down – and then the top part is no longer playable on a sopranino recorder in F.
Vivaldi’s writing for the recorder is quite advanced. The whole range is used, and he exploits more modulations to remote keys than in concerti for other instruments (including the violin). Hence the intonation of the then recorder player must have been exceptionally good and the instrument of superior quality.
The scoring is very clear: all solos accompanied by high strings (violins and viola) are to show off the fast fingers of the soloist, whereas the emotional and spiritually demanding passages which call for rubato are together with the basso continuo. The first movement of RV.443 is very proud and the little flute is trusted with big movements and heroic gestures that almost makes fun of the little voice which tries so hard to be impressive (why do I think of a Chihuahua…?!). The written-out cadenza at the end is stylistically interesting and brings a new flavour to the concerto concept.
The second movement is a slow Siciliana which could very well be an aria from one of Vivaldi’s operas. This movement has been an evergreen for the past 50 years, and it is one of the reasons for me playing the recorder. The third movement has some very funny ingredients: the second violin repeated notes are very theatrical and reminds me of theatre machines designed to imitate the sound of a storm. Also here Don Antonio composed a cadenza where the recorder and the basso continuo has a dialogue before the concerto concludes with the wind machine and leaves us all with the feeling that Vivaldi never lacked fantasy and always was able to be interesting and to create some melodies that will stay with us forever.