Juilliard415 in Diverse Program of the Italian Baroque

United StatesUnited States Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi, Veracini: La Stravaganza: Music of the Italian Baroque, Robert Mealy (violin and director), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Soloists, Juilliard415, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 14.11.2014 (SSM)

Georg Frideric Handel: Overture from Agrippina, HWV 6
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto grosso, Op. 6, No. 7 in D major
Antonio Vivaldi: Amor, hai vinto, RV 683
Concerto for Two Violins and Two Cellos in D major, RV 564
Concerto for Two Flutes in C major, RV 533
Overture from L’Olimpiade, RV 726
Francesco Maria Veracini: Overture No. 6 in G minor
Vivaldi: Cessate, omai cessate, RV 684

The Historical Performance Program students at this concert seemed to me younger but even more accomplished than their predecessors. Who would have thought 5 or so years ago that this continually changing student group would appear in Augsburg and Munich, and be good enough to perform as professionals under such conductors as Nicolas McGegan, William Christie and Masaaki Suzuki? Granted, there was not quite the rock-solid tightness that comes with learning and lots of time together, and not every student exhibited brilliant technical abilities. But having seen what time in this program can do, I would expect continued growth and maturity.

The concert opened with Handel’s brilliant Overture to Agrippina, starting off with as good an imitation of the classic Lully overture as there is: filled with dotted rhythms, giving emphasis to the oboe, and with a stately pacing. Normally, there would be a fugal middle section and then a return to the opening tempo, but Handel goes off on his own with a middle section that is Italianate in style with emphasis on the strings, even giving the first violin a solo. The overture ends after a scurrying downward slide of notes to a sudden almost comically long silence before an oboe solo leads to the last notes. This was not an easy piece to play, and the students stuck together, handling the breakneck speed as if all were virtuosi.

Countertenor Eric Jurenas sang two cantatas by Vivaldi, both well suited for his vocal range. The training for this kind of voice is a demanding one, and it is impressive to see and hear someone so young with such talent. The challenging melismas that Vivaldi wrote to emphasize words in the text ̶ for example the “a” at the end of ondo urtando và (rolling waves), or the last syllable in mi torno à respirar (breathing again) ̶ were accurately sung with warmth and solid intonation.

Many Vivaldi concerti were written for unusual combinations of instruments. Some of these combinations are within the traditional Italian repertory: 2 violins or 2 flutes or violin and cello. Some are sui generis: 2 violins and 2 cellos, 2 hunting trombones, oboes and bassoon or, my favorite, 3 violins, oboe, 2 recorders, 2 viole all’inglese, chalumeau, 2 cellos, 2 harpsichords, 2 trumpets and strings. Why such crazy combinations? Vivaldi’s concerti were written for the girls at the Oespedale della Pietà. If the best musicians available were 2 violinists and 3 horn players, they became the soloists in Vivaldi’s new concerto.

The concerto for 2 violins and 2 celli was enthusiastically played and fun to watch as each theme was, like a hot potato, thrown to the next instrumentalist. Vivaldi was capable of writing these concerti in the time it took to put ink to paper. But there had to be shortcuts, and a major one (which is true for both concerti here) is that the orchestral accompaniment consists mostly of doubling the soloists. The double flute concerto was equally delightful, with soloists who played with fluid ease and were able to bring out a darker, richer color that cannot be duplicated on a modern flute.

The Overture to L’Olimpiade, like most of Vivaldi’s overtures, is really a sinfonia, a three-movement work, usually fast-slow-fast, that has nothing to do with the opera that follows. Many of the more recently discovered operas are missing overtures, so it’s not unusual to hear the same overture leading two or three different operas.

My thought on the well-played Veracini overture was that it is pleasant enough but should make us thankful for the many more substantial composers of the period.

I look forward to future concerts and opportunities to see these talented, already mature players evolve.

Stan Metzger

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