United States Vivaldi, Marcello, Geminiani, Paisiello: Avi Avital (mandolin), Anna Fusek (Recorder), Venice Baroque Orchestra, Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 11-3-2015 (SSM)
Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major, RV 114
Concerto in D Minor, RV 127
Concerto in D Major for Lute, RV 93
Marcello: Concerto in G Major
Vivaldi: Concerto in G Major for Two Mandolins, RV 532 (arr. for mandolin and recorder by Avi Avital)
Geminiani: Concerto Grosso in D Minor (after Corelli’s Violin Sonata, Op. 5, No. 12, “Folia”)
Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Mandolin, RV 425
Paisiello: Concerto in E-flat Major for Mandolin
Vivaldi: Concerto in G Minor, “L’estate” (“Summer”), RV 315
Trad. (Bulgarian): “Bucimis”
Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Flautino, RV 443
In a review of the Venice Baroque Orchestra’s concert two years ago, I commented positively on their “wildness”: in spite of the liberties they took with the scores, the performance was redeemed by a “sparkling freshness” and “the enthusiasm of all of its members.” Nothing played at this concert could be described any differently. But this was not a simple repeat of the previous one. Aside from the Geminiani concerto, there was no duplication, but there was a game-changing loss and addition. The loss was the founding director, Andreas Marcon, and the gain was mandolin player Avi Avital.
Even though Marcon as director did not strictly conduct ̶ he himself played the harpsichord standing up, quickly giving signals when he could ̶ he restrained the group’s tendency to overplay. I thought that as the performance here progressed, their playing got looser. This was less of a problem when Avital joined them; the ensemble receded into the background as Avital became the center of attention. One might have expected Avital to show off, as many young super-stars do, and perhaps he did in the past, but this instrumentalist is 37 and not the 25 or so that he appears. His technique is impeccable, and he refrains from overly dramatic gestures. His transcriptions from lute and violin avoid the temptation to produce anything other than an accurate reproduction of the solo instrument. At its best, I felt that I was listening to the original, unadulterated score, the only difference being the work’s instrumentation.
The music chosen for the program was a mix of the familiar and the little known. The Geminiani sonata did not stand up as well here as at other performances I’ve heard. The important basso continuo line was drowned out by the strings, which resulted in a set of variations that sounded somewhat unfocussed.
Benedetto Marcello’s Concerto would likely still be covered in dust if Bach hadn’t taken his Oboe Concerto in D Minor and transcribed it for solo keyboard. (Bach did the same with several Vivaldi concerti.)
First violin Gianpiero Zanocco was in a difficult chair, replacing the virtuoso Giuliano Carmignola as well as substituting for Marcon, and he should be congratulated for his stamina. Cellist Daniele Bovo kept up with Zanocco in the give-and-take segments, and he too should be commended. Anna Fusek gets two rounds of applause, both for her violin playing and for her command of the sopranino recorder and flautino.