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Vivaldi, Folia: Seattle Baroque Soloists, Town Hall, Seattle, 2.1.2011 (BJ)

Rossi: Sonata sopra “E tanto tempo hormai”

Sonata prima “La Moderna”

Sonata sopra la Bergamasca

Marini: Five pieces from Affetti Musicali

Fontana: Sonata seconda

Cavalli: Canzon a 3

Vivaldi: Lute Concerto in D major

Sonata in G minor, Op. 1 No. 1

Corelli: Sonata in D minor, Op. 4 No. 8

Vivaldi: Sonata in D minor, Op. 1 No. 12, “Folia”


Attended by an encouragingly large and enthusiastic audience, this was the inaugural performance by an ensemble drawn from the ranks of the period-instrument Seattle Baroque Orchestra. Violinist Ingrid Matthews and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman, who founded the orchestra in 1994, are joined in the new group by violinist Tekla Cunningham, lutenist John Lenti (whose introductory talk was nicely seasoned with wit), and cellist Nathan Whittaker.

Reviewing one of the orchestra’s recordings a few years ago, I remarked that the string playing was relatively radical in eschewing vibrato in favor of a certain rawness of sound. On this occasion, however, the style of performance was refreshingly undoctrinaire. Ingrid Matthews in particular deployed a modest degree of vibrato, which lent her tone an agreeable warmth and smoothness, and the contrast with Tekla Cunningham’s straighter and crisper sound was itself a source of musical satisfaction. Collaborating in most of the pieces on the program, Schenkman was a tower of strength, Whittaker showed himself to be a formidable virtuoso in the concluding
Folia from which the concert took its title, and Lenti’s lute completed a well-organized continuo group. I was only a bit sorry for him when he played the solo part in a D-major Lute Concerto by Vivaldi: excellent though the acoustics of the 832-seat Town Hall auditorium are, the piece—which in any case comes nowhere near the charm and melodic beauty of the composer’s D-minor concerto that pairs the instrument with a solo viola d’amore—really needs a smaller room to make any appreciable impact.

The rest of this superbly performed program, which concentrated exclusively on the Venetian 17th and 18th centuries, was full of interest, and offered at least this listener a first encounter with the accomplished and often attractive music of Biagio Marini and Giovanni Battista Fontana. While Salomone Rossi and Arcangelo Corelli are known and sufficiently respected quantities, my previous acquaintance with Francesco Cavalli has been through his operas, which have always struck me as a sort of Monteverdi-without-the-spice (rather like the relation between Zemlinsky and Mahler a couple of centuries later). His Canzon a 3, however, struck me as a most impressive piece, suggesting that an exploration of his instrumental output might well be more rewarding.

As for the Vivaldi
Folia, it made a thrillingly rousing conclusion to the official program. But then, as an encore, we were given a movement from a Handel trio sonata that was (dare I say it?) the greatest music of the afternoon, and sent me off to dinner in a very good mood. It is indeed excellent news for Seattle-ites that this year’s American Handel Festival, in which the Early Music Guild and the associated Seattle Baroque Orchestra play an important role, will fill the city in March with the music of the man Beethoven described as “the master of us all.”

Bernard Jacobson


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