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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL CONCERT REVIEW
A Venezia! - Il Giardino Armonico: Giovanni Antonini (Director, Flute, Flautino), Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 24.2.2011 (SSM)
Dario Castello: Sonata decimaquinta a quattro
Tarquinio Merula: Canzone a quattro, "La Lusignola"
Ciaccona per due violini
Dario Castello: Sonata decimasesta a quattro
Giovanni Legrenzi: Sonata seconda a quattro, Op. X
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Flautino, Strings, and Continuo, RV 444
Concerto in C Minor for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, RV 441
Baldassare Galuppi: Concerto a quattro in G Minor
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Flautino, Strings, and Continuo, RV 443
In a program where the only familiar composer was Vivaldi, I assumed that his wind concerti would be the highlight of the evening. There was an air of anticipation as we waited for Giovanni Antonini, the director of the group and flautist, to appear. Even the players seemed expectant. He eventually strutted on stage and began playing the Vivaldi Concerto for Flautino, RV 444. Yes, he has amazing technique and breath control and is able to get incredibly rapid chirps out of the tiny little flute, but this was just virtuoso showmanship for its own sake. It was impossible for the listener to extricate the melodies from his rush of notes. Antonini cared little for tempo marks, playing the Largo as if it were an Allegretto, exaggerating cadences and creating codas with unmarked diminuendos and ritardandos.
I certainly am not a traditionalist in regard to Baroque performance. I love Anzellotti on accordion doing Bach's Goldberg Variations, the Dunedin Consort's one-person-per-role Messiah, and performances by Il Giardino Armonico in their Handel Opus 6 set (Handel's Concerti Grossi benefited from the speed and warmth of the group). But here Antonini sacrificed clear articulation, melody and rhythms for speed. Granted, Vivaldi's concerti are in no way monumental in comparison to Bach and Handel, but their melodies are catchy, rhythms bouncy, and second movements often soulful. In the second movement of the Concerto for Flautino, RV 443, Giovanni did slow down but not enough to bring out its heartfelt pathos. Equally annoying was his performing stance which the person next to me called the "pelvic school" style of playing: bending, lurching and swaying, adding unneeded body emphasis whenever he wanted to make a point.
The first part of the concert consisted of music from the Italian Baroque by little-known composers. The first two pieces were for four strings—but a string quartet far different from any written a hundred years later. Very free in form, the works consist of short passages thrown back and forth among the musicians. These phrases are then developed in a way that makes them appear almost improvised. Other characteristics are sudden changes in dynamics and tempo. The third piece on the concert was a "Ciaccona" for two violins and basso continuo. The chaconne is a form in triple time that uses a continuous repetition of a motif, usually only a measure or two in length, played in the bass upon which the upper voices seemingly improvise. The particular way the chaconne is accented on the second beat can have a mesmerizing effect. Almost all the composers of the Baroque period wrote one or more of them, ending in the nonpareil "Ciaconna in D minor" by Bach for solo violin. The chaconne played here, composed by Tarquinio Merula in the mid-seventeenth century, is for two violins. In addition to the usual variations over the repeating bass, the second violin serves as a bouncing board for the motifs played by the first violin. This was delightfully handled by the two violinists, Enrico Onofri and Marco Bianchi.
Giovanni Legrenzi is often included in programs on the Venetian school in the period just before Vivaldi. Legrenzi died when Vivaldi was twelve, yet his influence on the younger composer was enormous, both in forms used and string technique. The sonata on this program is both representative of the modern side of Legrenzi with its more developed themes, but also old-fashioned in its sudden dynamic and tempo changes. As in all the works in the first part of the program, the strings played with warmth and enthusiasm.
Although most of the pieces here, including the improvisations that joined some of the disparate work, have been in IGA's repertory at least since 2000 when they were recorded on the album "Viaggio Musicale," the work by Galuppi is new to the mix. A generation younger (1706-1785) than the other composers on this program, he is represented here by a composition once thought to be by Corelli. It was later determined that Galuppi wrote it but in the style of Corelli, and it certainly reminds one of the latter with its slow opening, fugal second movement and closing allegro.
One last caveat. The playbill states that these works are "three of Vivaldi's lesser-known wind concerti," yet I stopped counting at 25 the number of recordings of all three of these. In fact, one of the early recordings of two of them (Vivaldi's RV 441 and RV 443), was performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958. Flautists such as Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway, among others, made the RV 441 concerto a standard repertory work.