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Haiku, Italian Style

New York
Rose Theatre, Lincoln Centre
08/05/2008 -  
“Mostly Mozart Festival”:
All Vivaldi program: Concerto for Strings in A Major – Concerto for Two Oboes and Strings in D minor – Concerto for Strings in C Major (“Concerto ripieno”) – Concerto for Two Horns in F Major – Concerto for Strings in D Major – Concerto for Two Trumpets in C Major – Concerto for Violin, Oboe and strings in B-flat Major – Concerto for Two Oboes, Bassoon, Two Horns, Violin, and Strings in F Major (”Da Caccia”)

Andrea Mion, Emiliano Rodolfi (oboes), Jonathan Pia Guido Guidarelli (trumpets), Mauro Lopes Ferreira (violin), Ermes Pecchinini, Dimer Maccaferri (horns), Luca Peverini, Matteo Scarpelli (celli)
Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini (Conductor)

On a muggy Manhattan evening, this octet of Vivaldi concertos was like eight breezes from different directions, but each with the same cooling effects. Or perhaps eight Japanese haiku, but instead of three lines, three movements which made their case, joked, sighed and pleasantly went on their way.

And while a whole evening of Vivaldi doesn’t have an overwhelming attraction on the surface, the Concerto Italiano, with its soloists and splendid conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, made certain that it was a joyous, if sometimes lightweight experience.

Monday’s concert , of Baroque choral music, had three religious works so dissimilar that one’s attention was happily concentrating on the varieties. For Vivaldi, each movement was so short that by the time the work was over, one was just beginning to adjust to the mood.

Yet the Concerto Italiano did offer minor revelations, especially with the soloists. While the platitude that Vivaldi composed one concerto about 300 times has a kernel of truth, it is equally true (as was said of the sonnet) that nuns fret not at their cloister doors. And in these eight works, Vivaldi produced endless variations on his limited themes.

In one sense, hearing these pieces played with such authenticity, one began to realize that Vivaldi was creating an orchestral Well-Tempered Clavier, using instruments like the horn, which were rarely in ensembles, and attempting to show nuance, innovation and ensemble color.

The theme was that color, as well as virtuosity, and this ensemble has it in spades. Firs to mind come Andrea Mion and Emiliano Rodolfi who took ancient oboes and made them sound like today’s trumpets for two movements. In the second movement, the Maestro moved away and the two, accompanied by bassoon, played a plaintive sometimes pungent trio.

I am also thinking of the two valveless C Major trumpeters, Jonathan Pia and Guido Guidarelli in (naturally) a C Major concerto. This was Vivaldi’s only concerto for two brass, and he handled it delicately. No blaring, no clarion calls, but a sensitive chamber work. Augmenting their work was an equally lovely solo violin. Vivaldi’s orchestras varied from day to day, church to school to court, but he knew his players and colors well.

We come to the most problematical concerto, with the most staggering soloists, Ermes Pecchinini and Dimer Maccaferri, who played the valveless French horn. The instrument had been in use on the hunting-fields for several centuries , but the corno raddoppriato (its ancient name) could only play in one key, and one movement at a time before a rest was needed.

So these two stood by the orchestra, holding their horns with one hand, the other hand dangling or forming a v-shape on the waist, like a Scottish dancer. The rough tones were deliciously rustic, and mistakes were a-plenty. (One thought of Mozart’s Musical Joke..) But these players had lungs and embouchure which could have intimidated Dizzy Gillespie. Mistakes or not, this was a natural instrument, played with passion and joy.

Of course they had to take a break, and the second movement had a little duet with cellists Luca Peverini and Matteo Scarpelli.

The other concertos were mainly for strings alone, and this is where Concerto Italiano excels. They can be delicate, the colors can be muted, but they are always perfect, the few players making delightfully transparent sounds. Maestro Alessandrini had one or two questionable tempos (the Largo of a piece for strings, violin and oboe was taken almost gig-tempo), but who am I to question his choices?

The final work brought all the soloists together. Vivaldi, who reputedly composed faster than the copyists could copy the music, must have come to the theatre one day, with everybody—horns, oboes, strings trumpets waiting for him. He probably took out some paper, looked around, and wrote them all in. Not a great work, but, like the other pieces, miniature poems which express their message and, like aromatic breezes, make their departures.

Harry Rolnick



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