Fabio Biondi: A Change of Clothes and Venue Performs Bach

United StatesUnited States Bach, Locatelli: Fabio Biondi (violin), Kenneth Weiss (harpsichord), Weill Recital Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 20.2.2014 (SSM)

Bach Violin Sonata in G Major, BWV 1021
Violin Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 1019
Violin Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017
Italian Concerto, BWV 971
Locatelli:Sonata in D Minor, Op. 6, No. 12

Bach: Cantabile, ma non poco Adagio from Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in G Major, BWV 1019a


Weill Recital Hall has always been a most conducive venue for chamber music. (Its original name was was just that: ChamberMusic Hall). Its small number of seats, under 300, and classic design give it an air of formality not felt in its younger sibling, Zankel Hall. Although, pleasant to be in and home of most of the Baroque Unlimited series concerts, Zankel’s modern broadcast studio design at time clashes with the music performed on-stage.

 Yet even at the more traditional Weill, I was slightly surprised to see the two musicians come out in tuxedos. I knew then that this concert would be a different experience than Fabio Biondi’s all-Vivaldi program a week earlier at Zankel. At that concert, Biondi was the strolling violinist, playing music that did not require him to be glued to a score; and when playing movements from the Four Seasons made it evident that this was music for which no support was needed. Thankfully, Biondi and his group, Europa Galante, has not fallen into the shake and bake style of playing of unnamed Baroque ensembles whose soloists emphasize critical moments with pelvis grinds not seen since Elvis in his heyday.

 It is easy to differentiate Vivaldi’s Gebrauchmusik (Hindemith’s term for music written to be used for mundane purposes ) from Bach’s religious based music, where even some secular chamber music bore the SDG initials (For God Alone) next to Bach’s signature. Bach knew and admired Vivaldi’s works and transcribed a number of Vivaldi concerti into solo keyboard works. Maybe a little more of the spirit of Vivaldi would have added some warmth to the musicians execution.

 Both musicians but Weiss more so relied on their scores which gave  some rigidity to the pieces played. It could be simply that the many soloists and some conductors who perform without scores has made us come to expect that level of performing acumen all the time.

 Biondi certainly knows his stuff and was relaxed as ever: not surprising for someone who has been in front of audiences since he was 12.  He dug into the fast movements with the same dexterity that he has given to all music that he performs. The slow movements and especially the passionate, lyrical Siciliano from the 4th Sonata were played with much pathos.

 I would have loved Biondi if he had programmed one of the solo violin sonatas of partitas given that Weiss had the opportunity to play alone Bach’s Italian Concerto:a performance that was particularly convincing in its intelligent use of the harpsichord’s second manual to differentiate the”solo” instrument from the “orchestral” instruments. Weiss also had his own chance to show his skills in the harpsichord-only 3rd movement of the 6th sonata.

 Biondi closed the recital with a work of the Italian contemporary of Bach, Pietro Locatelli. As would be expected Biondi was right at home here, bouncing back all the virtuoso techniques thrown at him by his countryman.

 The encore was an alternative version of the Adagio from the 6th sonata which was quite interesting and very different from the original movement played earlier.

Stan Metzger