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Not so bad, really

01/11/2002 -  
George Frideric Handel: Suite from Rodrigo, "Inumano fratel...Stille amare" (from Tolomeo)
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for violin & strings in D minor, Op. 8, No. 9 (from Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione)
George Frideric Handel: "Se in fiortio" (from Giulio Cesare), "Furibondo spira il vento" (from Partenope)
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins & cello in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11 (from L'estro armonico), Motet: Longe mala (RV629)

David Daniels (counter-tenor)
Europa Galante
Fabio Biondi (violin/director)

Europa Galante have an upcoming CD of Vivaldi motets with David Daniels, which will obviously include Longe mala, the cantata-like motet for mezzo solo that closed the programme at the Barbican. But Fabio Biondi's band are not your average baroque musak crew. Instead of a simple foretaste of the album, they presented an exhilarating interchange between Vivaldi and his peers, Corelli and Handel in his Italian mode.

Longe mala has a text that reflects from a subjective point of view, but in a rather impersonal way, on the way the woes of life are eased by God's grace. Vivaldi's music, though, at least looks at the methods of opera. The motet consists of a growling allegro da capo aria that describes the metaphorical storms of the world, a recitative invoking God's rescue, a lento aria expressing the joy of the vision of grace and a bravura final Alleluia. The rest of the programme offered parallels and influences for the vocal and instrumental components: some itchy dances from Rodrigo and the last movement of Vivaldi's Concerto for violin and strings for the instrumental abrasiveness of the turbulent first aria, and Furibondo spira il vento from Partenope for its vocal fireworks illustrative of turmoil in nature and the soul, Stille amare for the vocal legato and Corelli for the serene exultation of the second aria, and Se in fiorito for the ecstatic exuberance of the Alleluia.

The instrumental performances were at the alarming end of vividness, particularly for the storm strand in the music. All the members of Europa Galante who can do so play standing up, and at times players leaned towards one another or even took a step or two together to form a huddle. The seated cellists and violone player seemed to sway dangerously, while the harpsichordist pounced on his low keyboard like a very cultivated hyena. There was as much street as church or court, or perhaps it was simply nature in action. Daniels, in contrast, although perfectly in tune with the band, was all sweetness, particularly gorgeous in duet with Biondi's earthier violin in Se in fiorito, and apparently having the time of his life in the Alleluia.

As last year's performances and CD of Bach cantatas with Ian Bostridge also showed, Europa Galante have the collective personality to work with the most individualistic singers. Daniels has much less of a dramatic presence than Bostridge, but his singing is as distinctive and expressive, in a completely different style. In both cases, the singers perform something close to their ideal repertoire, with instrumentalists who are definitely not just accompanying them. The Vivaldi CD will certainly be worth hearing.

H.E. Elsom



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