Reviving Vivaldi: Juilliard Plays All Vivaldi Program

 United StatesUnited States Vivaldi: The Glories of Venice, Juilliard Historical Performance Faculty, Juilliard415, Monica Huggett (director), Corpus Christi Church, New York, 22.4.2012 (SSM) 

Presented by Music Before1800

Concerto in F Major, RV 97
Concerto for Violin, Flute, Oboe, Bassoon and Continuo in G Minor, RV 107
Bassoon Concerto in D Minor, RV 481
Concerto for Two Horns in F Major, RV 538
Flute Concerto in D Major “ll gardellino,” RV 428
Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon in G Major, RV 545
Concerto per solennita di S. Lorenzo in D Major, RV 562


On a rainy Sunday afternoon we were treated to an all-Vivaldi concert by the Juilliard Baroque (faculty) and Juilliard415 (students). Who was or was not a student would be hard to say, so professionally did everyone perform.

Vivaldi has suffered over the years from jokes centered on the notion that all his music sounds the same: the old saw is that he didn’t write 500 concertos, but rather wrote one concerto 500 times. And if one mainly hears myriad recordings and performances of “The Four Seasons,” his music can sound trivial.

The truth is that Vivaldi wrote most of his instrumental music on demand as material for students, but he is due more respect now with the revival of both his sacred music and a large body of operas. The recovery of over 450 works found in the Library of Turin which the CD label Naïve is in the process of recording (currently at 56 volumes on its way to 100 by 2015) gives reason to believe Vivaldi looked at opera as his true art. While some Vivaldi arias and sacred pieces are simply voices being doubled by the orchestra, there are many others that are of exceptional merit and compete with Handel in musical quality.

The first two concerti performed here were part of 25 concerti da camera recovered from the Turin Library cache. These works are ideal for presenting Vivaldi concerti with a limited number of musicians, and the Juilliard groups made these chamber concerti showcases for their technical skills.

The opening Concerto in F Major, RV 97 is unusual in several respects. Instead of his usual three movements, Vivaldi uses a four-movement form, the sonata da chiesa, found most prominently in the works of Corelli. This concerto, like the one that followed, uses the same instruments that play the ripieno (orchestral forces) to play the concertinos (one instrumental solo). The usual basso continuo of keyboard and bass stringed instrument was replaced entirely by bassoon, and the excellent bassoonist Domenic Terasi added bounce and color to the music. The impossibly-difficult-to-play natural horns improved their intonation considerately in the third movement.

The other found work, the Concerto for Violin, Oboe and Bassoon, RV 107, includes a continuo that frees the bassoon for other business. Unfortunately, although named as a soloist, the bassoon never gets a chance to solo. The second movement dialogue between the oboe and flute melds in a way that blurs the line between the instruments, and it was tenderly played by Gonzolo Ruiz and Sandra Miller. A chaconne, a common form used by most of Vivaldi’s contemporaries but rarely by Vivaldi, provided a spirited end to the concerto.

A favorite instrument of Vivaldi, the bassoon finally got a chance to solo in the D Minor Concerto, RV 481. Teresi took the long runs with ease, producing a warm and earthy tone.

At a concert last year, a Baroque performance group presented a double horn concerto by a Bach contemporary, Johann Friedrich Fasch. Although the group considered itself Baroque, the solo horns were modern day French horns. It was clear from their first notes that they had not practiced adequately, and wrong notes on a horn are not easy to disguise. Here, fortunately, two brave natural horn players, R. J. Kelley and Nathanael Udell, took on Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns, RV 538. Using only embrochure and a hand in the instrument’s bell, they were able to make this formal hunting horn sing. Some slightly off moments are not unexpected, given how difficult it is to reshape one’s mouth or open and close the bell as needed.

All the concerti on this program were unfamiliar – not a difficult accomplishment when there is so much unplayed music of Vivaldi to discover – except the Flute Concerto in D Major, known as “The Goldfinch.” But with Sandra Miller as soloist, it was good to hear it again. Her discreet use of improvised ornaments on the da capos in the languorous second-movement Largo was particularly appreciated.

Every once in a while, Vivaldi hits the mark on rhythmically interesting instrumental material, and the Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon, RV. 545, is one of those concerti. There is much of interest in the back and forth of the oboe and bassoon, and the sound mix of these two double-reed instruments make it difficult to see where one instrumental line ends and the other one begins. The last movement brings back themes that are closely related to the first movement.

The closing Concerto in D Major, RV. 562 was the star of the show. The opening Andante creates a sense of dramatic foreboding and leads into a French baroque fanfare with horns used as trumpets. In the Naïve series of Vivaldi’s works, the conductor Alessandro de Marchi uses the last two movements of this concerto to replace the lost overture to the military oratorio, “Juditha triumphans.” Although there are solos for other instruments in the last movement, the amazing violin cadenza by Monica Huggett was the highlight.

And who said Vivaldi’s music is clichéd?

Stan Metzger