United States Caldara, Vivaldi: Soloists: Cynthia Roberts (violin), Owen Dalby (violin), Katie Rietman (cello), Simon Martyn-Ellis (Baroque guitar), Clarion Orchestra, Steven Fox (Conductor/Director), Fabbri House, New York, 12.4.2014 (SSM)
Antonio Caldara: San Elena al Calvario in G Minor
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto Grosso in A Minor, RV 522
“La Primavera,” Le quattro stagioni, RV 269
Sinfonia in G Major, RV 146
“L’inverno,” Le quattro stagioni, RV 297
Lute Concerto in D, RV 93
Sinfonia in G, RV 149
What better venue for an almost-all Vivaldi program than the wood-paneled Italian Renaissance library at the Fabbri House. Unfamiliar music mixed with the familiar, from a rarely heard Antonio Caldara work to “Spring” and “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni.
Caldara, eight years older than Vivaldi, was a prolific composer, more prolific in vocal music, at least, than Vivaldi. Caldara wrote around a hundred operas alone (Vivaldi claimed he wrote ninety-four, although we only know of about fifty). His vocal music included more than forty oratorios, 110 masses and hundreds of other forms, mostly sacred in style. Not much is made of a possible connection between Vivaldi and Caldara, but it would be unlikely that they never met. Both men were born in Venice: Caldara left in 1699 when Vivaldi was twenty-two.
San Elena al Cavario is one in a set of twelve sinfonias that Caldara arranged from his own sacred canatas and oratorios, and it is reminiscent of Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Minor, “Al Santo Sepolcro.” Both works blur the line between concerto and sinfonia, a term often used to describe an overture to an opera. Slightly more complex than an overture, sinfonia are usually from two to four movements. Here, in San Elena, all the strings came into play as one by one they joined the fugue in a quiet opening that led to a vigorous second section. It was a perfect introduction to the music that followed.
There was no doubt about the provenance of the group’s instruments: the Baroque strings are so much more mellow than their modern-day counterparts. The warm acoustics helped: the music seemed to be reflected by the dark wood of the library. This came about as close as one could imagine to hearing the music as it might have originally been performed.
The Concerto Grosso in A Minor, scored for two violins, strings and basso continuo, fell into the hands of Johann Sebastian Bach and re-materialized in the form of an organ concerto. Vivaldi might have thought he had written music for two soloists and bass, but Bach saw the soloists as two hands playing an organ with the basso continuo played on the pedalboard. In any case, this performance of Vivaldi’s original score excelled with Cynthia Roberts and Owen Dalby in top form.
If played well, with a small ensemble and a willingness on the part of a conductor to go beyond the hundreds of performances heard piped into elevators and telephones on hold, Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni can still charm the listener. This was the case here. Aided by the library’s ambiance, the music came to life: birds, thunderstorms, murmuring streams and cracking ice were all readily conveyed. Owen Dalby was a strong and confident soloist in “Spring,” but Cynthia Roberts in “Winter” played close to the edge of what can possibly be done on a violin. It’s how one might think the “Red Priest” would have played it, and would have expected it to be played.
After the intermission, Steven Fox stepped away, handing the leadership to concertmaster Cynthia Roberts. This was not an unusual practice in the Baroque era, and it worked fine with the Sinfonia in G. The same cannot be said of the performance of the Lute Concerto in D. Simon Martyn-Ellis gave a brief history of the lute and the Baroque guitar and opted to play Vivaldi’s concerto on the soft-toned guitar. Martyn-Ellis played elegantly, but miscommunication between him and the basso continuo, cellist Katie Rietman, led to an unfortunate imbalance in the outer movements that rendered the guitar inaudible for some of the time.
The closing work on the program brought Steven Fox back to conduct the ensemble, and the concert ended in fine fiddle.
Final concert of the season: 1791: The Mozart Requiem 2 May 2014 8PM Park Avenue Christian Church, 1010 Park Avenue at 85th St.