Juilliard415 Morphs Again

United StatesUnited States Castello, Farina, Rosenmüller, Corelli, Vivaldi: Juilliard415, presentation for the Bohemian Club at the Kosciuszko Foundation, New York, 3.12.2012 (SSM)

Dario Castello: Sonata decimasesta from Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro II, 1629
Carlo Farina: Pavana Seconda from Ander Theil newer Paduanen, 1627
Johann Rosenmüller: Sonata no.10 in F major from Sonate, 1682
Arcangelo Corelli: Trio Sonata no. 6 in B minor from Sonate a tre, Op. 1, 1681
Sonata no. 12 in G major: Ciaconna from Sonate da camera a tre, Op. 2, 1685
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in G minor, RV 107

As with any student orchestra, the makeup of the early music group Juilliard415 changes from one year to the next as students graduate and new ones come in. Fortunately, there is continuity with experienced seniors sharing their knowledge with younger players. But unique to any early music group is the demand made upon it to morph into the myriad combinations of instrumentalists needed to cover the staves of a composer’s score. No 19th century or later chamber work would be written ˗ as Bach did for most movements of his Musical Offering ˗ without specifying an instrument. If the instrument could cover a line’s range, whether keyboard, oboe, violin or flute, that was OK for Bach. Play Schubert’s Quintet in C major with a contrabassoon instead of a double bass and watch the audience walk out. In this concert, Corelli’s Trio, written for 2 violins, replaced the first violin with a flute and sounded as “correct” as the original.

The historical precedent in the Baroque period allows for changes in instrumentalists depending upon which musicians are available to perform and what their level of expertise may be. This can be seen in the music of Vivaldi who, as a music teacher in a girl’s orphanage, almost always composed with a specific student or student group in mind. Hence there are the odd combinations of concertino groups ranging from simple two-violin concerti to the concerti for diverse instruments such the RV 555 concerto for 3 violins, oboe, viola all’inglese, chalmeleau, 2 cellos, harpsichord, strings & continuo. Bach too continually transformed works to other formats: a harpsichord concerto to a violin concerto, or another composer’s oboe concerto into a keyboard work.

The concert presented here by the current Juilliard historical performance group consisted of two ensembles. It was the first time I’ve heard the students without a staff or guest conductor and, without meaning to disparage this performance or any of the performers (many of whom I have praised in previous reviews), the program wanted for the presence of a conductor/leader. Monica Huggett, Gonzalo Ruiz or a guest instructor like William Christie, Jordi Savall, Steven Fox or Richard Egarr would have added a level of panache and enthusiasm.

The program was designed to track the development of the Baroque chamber sonata from the extravagant style of Dario Castello (played admirably here), with its sudden changes in tempo and dynamics; to the German Johann Rosenmüller with his take on the techniques of the Italian violin school; through Corelli, the most influential composer of the group, whose early Trio sonata mix of both “church” and “chamber” form leads to Vivaldi. The latter’s Concerto in G minor, like most of his concerti, follows the more modern of Corelli’s forms, the chamber (da camera) style of fast-slow-fast.

The interesting history of the G minor concerto revolves around the fact that it was not written for Vivaldi’s girl students at the orphanage, but for performers and composers from Dresden who were so enamored of Vivaldi that they came to Venice to learn from him. The concerto was written and sent back to Dresden with one of the visiting musicians; although it starts off like a violin concerto, the other musicians, who are normally relegated to the background ripieno, come up front as part of the soloist concertino group. This allowed Vivaldi to provide the virtuosi of the Dresden orchestras’s first tier instrumentalists with music to show off their skills. Nanae Iwata stood out in this concerto, as she has in other performances, for her vibrant Baroque technical finesse in the manner of her mentor, Monica Huggett.

Both ensembles were technically adept and particularly skilled at following the lead violinist whose use of rubato required the players to keep a sharp eye on his every move.

Like a conductor waiting for the soloist in a concerto to finish his cadenza, failure to look at the first violinist could have resulted in coming in too soon or too late.

Stan Metzger