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Handel, Vivaldi and Sammartini: Viktoria Mullova (violin) with 'Il Giardino Armonico' conducted by Giovanni Antonini. The Sage, Gateshead, 12.10.2005 (JP)

Georg Frideric Handel: Concerto Grosso in G Minor Op.6 No.6 Antonio Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in C Major RV187
Giuseppe Sammartini: Flute Concerto in F Major
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Four Violins in RV580

Giuseppe Sammartini: Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op.5, No.4

Antonio Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in D Major RV208 - Grosso Mogul


Last night a relatively large audience, given the nature of the concert and the foul weather outside, gave a well deserved and rapturous welcome to its visitors from Milan along with their Russian virtuoso soloist. In the middle of a nation-wide tour, publicising their latest collaboration on a CD of Vivaldi violin concerti, 'Il Giardino Armonico' and Viktoria Mullova performed three Vivaldi works, interspersed with others by Sammartini and Handel.


'Il Giardino Armonico', last night in string mode only, sounded magnificent and much of their impact must be credited to the superb acoustic of the Sage concert hall. In spite of small numbers (4 first violins, 4 seconds, 1 viola, 2 cellos, double bass, harpsichord and lute), their sound filled the hall effortlessly.


Viktoria Mullova, playing her Stradivarius restrung with gut and using a baroque bow, sounded superb with neither fingerboard noise nor untidy playing to mar the effect of Vivaldi’s inspiration in the concerti. For the Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor , the first violins of the orchestra regrouped around the conductor with Mullova playing as lead first.


For Sammartini's “Flute Concerto”, the group's conductor Giovanni Antonini was the soloist, playing not a flute, but a recorder on which he was similarly expert. The whole concert was extremely enjoyable, spoiled somewhat only by the antics of Antonini's conducting and playing:he obviously comes from both “The School of Silly Faces” and “I’m a conductor because I practise in front of a Mirror” training academies. Because of his performance style, one unintentionally amusing aspect to the concert occurred during Antonini's solo recorder playing, when he was facing away from the orchestra with no audible effect at all on their playing. The audience then received the full frontal benefit of his movements however, which made him seem like a caricature of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.


Most of the real work had clearly been done in rehearsal, and the members of the orchestra all played like inspired soloists in their own right. Many seemed to ignore Signor Antonini's antics from the front, and just got on on with giving the audience what they had come to hear – a superb concert in every way. The only time when the discipline gave way at all was when they were taking their bow to the well deserved applause: their corporate acknowledgement looked like a poorly executed Mexican Wave.


Two short uncredited encores were also given by Viktoria Mullova and her orchestra, which left the audience totally satisfied. I sincerely hope that this concert tour goes on as successfully as it did last night. The concert-going public of the Gateshead and Newcastle area had a treat, and if this standard of performance is replicated around the country, 'Il Giardino Armonico' , their soloist and classical music will all be the  winners.


John Phillips


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