There’s something a little creepy about this recording of Vivaldi’s late oboe concertos, not just because they were written as the Inquisition demonised the impoverished Red Priest, but also because an elephant had to die to provide the ivory from which the soloist’s instrument (his ‘Ivory Angel’) was made.
Simone Toni and Silete Venti! use a reconstructed version of the 1730 original instrument currently held in a Milanese museum. Rather than a disclaimer that no elephants were harmed in the making of this recording, Toni’s liner notes only mention his own “ineffable sorrow” when the ivory located after an initial search proved unsuitable for his purposes.
Five concertos are interspersed with instrumental excerpts from L’Olimpiade and Griselda, forming an intriguing snapshot of an ageing Vivaldi reaching the end of an era where his trademark ebullience seems tinged with something more sinister. Don’t expect The Four Seasons.
The overall tone tends toward the lugubrious, the ivory oboe sounding like the soundtrack to a movie set in a haunted house, its eeriness ideally offset by the Baroque chamber organ burbling away in the mad professor’s attic, while the seriousness of musical intent does its best to stay on the right side of joyless. Specialists in historical performance will be delighted. And if this trend catches on, African poachers might just start taking an interest too.