A Windy Season of Vivaldi

United StatesUnited States Vivaldi: A Windy Season of Vivaldi, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi (director and volinist), Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 11.2.2014  (SSM)

Overture to Concerto in G Major for Oboe, Bassoon, and Continuo, RV 545
Allegro from Concerto in C Major for Oboe and Continuo, RV 449

Allegro from Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Major, RV 269, “La primavera”
Cantabile and Allegro from Concerto in D Major for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, RV 428, “Il gardellino”
Allegro from Concerto in E Major for Violin, Strings, and Continuo, RV 271, “L’amoroso”

Allegro from Concerto in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, RV 315, “L’estate”
Largo and Allegro from Concerto in D Major for Recorder, Oboe, Violin, Bassoon, and Continuo, RV 95, “La pastorella”
Presto from Concerto in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, RV 315, “L’estate”

Allegro from Concerto in F Major for Violin and Continuo, RV 293, “L’autunno”
Largo and Allegro from Concerto in G Minor for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, RV 439, “La notte”

Concerto in B-flat Major for Violin and Continuo, RV 362, “La caccia”

Allegro from Concerto in F Minor for Violin and Orchestra, RV 297, “L’inverno”
Largo and Allegro from Concerto in F Major for Oboe, Recorder, and Bassoon, RV 570, “La tempesta di mare”

Telemann: “Der stürmende Aeolus” from Water Music Suite in C Major, “Hamburger Ebb und Fluth”

Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante are at the top of my list of European original-instrument groups, and the performance here only reconfirmed it for me. Biondi has been a tireless advocate for Vivaldi and other Italian composers of the Baroque era. In addition to his role as violinist and director of the group, he has also reconstructed many Vivaldi operas. This has been no easy task, and in some cases, where parts of operas were lost, Biondi has substituted arias from other works by Vivaldi or a contemporary. Borrowing  music was common in Vivaldi’s day, and some of the operas revised by Biondi, such as the underperformed masterpiece Bajazet, should really be considered, as was most of this program, a pasticcio.

 The concert could be described both as a group of pastiches (mix-and-match movements) and as a series of sinfonias. Baroque composers were very lax about titles. “Sonatas, suites, symphonies and overtures” were used indiscriminately as titles for different combinations of instruments and different arrangements of the music. Here Biondi put together a series of movements from various Vivaldi concerti. The pieces were grouped together in the standard Vivaldi concerto structure of fast, slow, fast. The opening concerto, for example began with an Allegro from the Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon, RV 545; continued with its slow movement; and ended with the final Allegro movement from RV 449 for oboe.

Adding to the surprises in this unusual program, Biondi included movements from the work that many of us most associate with Vivaldi, The Four Seasons. Incorporating movements from this overplayed music in a different context made for a fresh appreciation of this really quite masterful set of concerti. Considering how often this music is played and how frequently it is performed on auto-pilot, one had no sense here that Biondi and his group were playing a work that has become the stuff of elevator music.

The performers’ handling of every nuance was clearly thought out and practiced, and the flexibility and sense of ease that each musician displayed made for an unusually satisfying evening. They were able to pinpoint the right moment to improvise or to build to a crescendo or to arpeggiate a chord; and when one needed to hold a fermata a tad longer than usual, or needed to emphasize rapid transitions from alternating high notes to triplets. Biondi’s signature cadences, so prominent in his accompaniment of arias, are appealing because they run against the expected, traditional loud final notes. As if to show the audience that he was well aware of this flaunting of tradition, he ended the concert on an exaggerated ppp.

All the soloists excelled. Oboist Paolo Grazzi’s piquant playing in the opening concerto set the standard for the rest of the concert. Marcello Gatti and his Baroque flute had the audience as well an the musicians hypnotized, as if they had been listening to a snake-charmer. This was especially true in the lyrical Cantabile of the famous “Il gardellino” concerto. Subtle variations in the da capo’s highly ornamented repeats were sublime. One normally doesn’t pay much attention to the basso continuo in a Baroque group, but the double bass score called for rapid playing of this unwieldy and ungainly giant, and it was handled impeccably by Patxi Montero.

Biondi announced the encore with the amusing comment that the audience would not have to listen to another Vivaldi work, and the group proceeded to give an energetic rendering of the storm movement from Telemann’s Water Music (Hamburger Ebb und Fluth).

Stan Metzger