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Celebrating Vivaldi's wild side

His music comes alive through concertos by the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

February 20, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Vivaldi's ubiquitous "Four Seasons" has charmed many of us to sleep about this composer. But the Venice Baroque Orchestra's program Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall woke us up to Vivaldi's gorgeous, prodigal invention, occasional waywardness and sometimes downright weirdness. It was wonderful.

Director and harpsichordist Andrea Marcon led his 12-member group in a program of seven Vivaldi string and violin concertos and one Tartini violin concerto. Giuliano Carmignola was the superlative soloist. The hall was sold out, and some audience members, like this one, missed the opening piece because of a misunderstanding about the concert's start time and being barred until a suitable break because the program was being recorded for future broadcast on an NPR series.

Each Vivaldi work had a distinct character and sound. The emphasis was as much on the unexpected, even the wild, as on seductive, singular beauty. Remember, "Baroque" was derived from a word originally describing an irregularly shaped pearl.

Carmignola caressed lyrical lines breathlessly and swept through virtuosic passages with dramatic power. Listeners hung on his every note.

Within each concerto, there were also dialogues between the violinist and lutenist Ivano Zanenghi, cellist Francesco Galligioni or a smaller ensemble consisting of violinists Luca Mares and Giorgio Baldan and violist Alessandra Di Vincenzo.

In such cases, Carmignola often lunged toward the players as if challenging them, playing cat-and-mouse games or just giving vent to improvisatory urges. They were never nonplused. Indeed, they seemed to savor these moments.

The solo concertos were in C, RV 190; E minor, RV 278; and G minor, RV 331.

The four opening concertos (or "sinfonias") also showed variety in style, pictorial evocation and emotional content. The Concerto in G, RV 146, began with a bewitching series of quiet arpeggios that somehow developed into a rustic dance. The Concerto in D minor, RV 127, finished in a flurry of lightning-fast but always precise passages.

The other string concertos were in C, RV 114, and G minor, RV 156.

Tartini's Violin Concerto in A, D. 96, which closed the first half of the program, departed from Vivaldi's fast-slow-fast pattern by adding a slow movement to end an elegant, flashy work with a hushed and tender pianissimo.

In response to tumultuous applause, Carmignola and the orchestra played two encores: the second movement from the Violin Concerto in F, RV 295, and the final movement of "Summer" from "The Four Seasons."


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