United States Chiara’s Diary: A Life at the Pieta Orphanage in Venice, 1730—1770: Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi (conductor, violin, viola d’amore), Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 16.2.2016. (SSM)
Giovanni Porta: Sinfonia in D Major for Strings and Continuo (arr. by Fabio Biondi)
Antonio Vivaldi: Sinfonia in G Major for Strings and Continuo, RV 149
Nicola Porpora: Sinfonia in G Major for Two Violins and Continuo, Op. 2, No. 1
Antonio Martinelli: Concerto for Violin in E Major (arr. and cadenzas by Fabio Biondi)
Vivaldi: Concerto in D Major for Violin, Strings and Continuo, RV 222
Martinelli: Concerto in D Major for Viola d’Amore and Strings (cadenza by Chiara)
Andrea Bernasconi: Sinfonia in D Major for Strings (arr. Fabio Biondi)
Fulgenso Perotti: Grave for Violin and Organ in G Minor (cadenza by Chiara) (arr. by Fabio Biondi)
Bernasconi: Sinfonia in D Major for Strings (arr. by Fabio Biondi)
Gaetano Latilla: Sinfonia in G Major (arr. by Fabio Biondi)
Like his French counterpart, William Christie, Fabio Biondi rarely fails in any project he undertakes. One can attend a concert or purchase a recording by him confident that the performance will be of the highest quality. On stage there is minimal posturing: even Biondi’s occasional dips and twists are restrained. The preparation for this concert and its earlier recording are exemplary, and Biondi’s involvement is thorough.
Just about any program notes on Vivaldi will mention his role as director of the all-female orchestra of Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà. While little is known about the training of these young women, the discovery of a diary belonging to one of the most talented musicians, Chiara, offers some first-hand information on the musical life within the cloisters. Not much has been revealed about the personal writings of Chiara, who lived her entire life in the sanctuary, but there is enough to gather that Chiara was deeply attached to Vivaldi and, as evinced by some of the music written for her by the Red Priest, her admiration was reciprocated.
Whether or not there is something in the Italian sensibility that wants to make stories or projects out of rediscovered manuscripts, Biondi here has done here what Cecilia Bartoli has been doing for decades. Her rediscoveries of music hidden or previously lost have resulted not just in recordings and recitals but in packages, thoroughly researched and documented: music written in Rome during the ban on opera at the turn of the 18th century; the ”sacrifices” of castrati; the mysterious life of the composer and political operative, Agostino Steffani.
Biondi’s take on Chiara is nowhere near as exciting. Chiara’s diary connects her with composers of the day, most of whom were successors to Vivaldi. Her cadenzas further link her to specific works. One would have hoped that real discoveries might have come from this, perhaps composers writing on the level of Vivaldi. Unfortunately, this is not the case: Vivaldi’s music stands out from his successors. Because she lived through most of the 18th century (1718-1791), Chiara saw music change from the complex works of the late Baroque through the Rococo to the Classical (Galante). In fact, after Vivaldi’s death in 1741 no great Italian composers appeared on the scene, and when they did appear, composers such as Rossini and Verdi flourished, but elsewhere than in Venice.
Biondi and his superb ensemble did their best to put some life into the weaker pieces. At times he made gestures to the group to rev them up, but they were doing fine. He resisted speeding up tempi which is always an easy way of grabbing the audience and also a way of overcoming the inherent weakness of a piece of music. Oddly, the first encore contained the most potent and heartfelt moments of the concert: the second movement from another piece that Vivaldi wrote for Chiara, the Concerto in B-flat Major, RV 372. If there was any doubt about Vivaldi’s feeling toward Chiara, just listen to this movement.
As a reward to the audience for sitting through nearly two hours of mainly serviceable music, Biondi and his group then ripped through a wildly virtuosic rendition of the first movement of “Winter” from The Four Seasons.