Biondi and Europa Galante explore Vivaldi’s titled works
In all of Antonio Vivaldi’s massive output, there are a mere 28 works that have titles, implying a programmatic element. They are not only in the minority for the composer but a rarity in the general time period, and yet, these 28 works encompass some of his most beloved music, most notably The Four Seasons.
Tuesday night in Zankel Hall, violinist Fabio Biondi and his Italian period-instrument ensemble Europa Galante explored these works.
An entire evening of Vivaldi is obstinate programming on its own, but it is made especially so when the majority of the works are movements from a violin concerto. The compositional formulae do begin to weigh after a certain point. And Biondi is a fine violinist, but the sheer amount of solo playing he did was proved unsustainable, as his playing deteriorated throughout the night.
Nevertheless, and the program’s concept withstanding, some outstanding music-making was heard Tuesday night. Perhaps most notably was flutist Marcello Gatti. His first featured concerto of the evening, two movements from Concerto in D Major for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, RV 428 “Il gardellino” (“The Goldfinch”), was absolutely marvelous. Every single note had purpose and direction that imbued his phrasing with such delicacy. In the Largo from Concerto in G Minor for Flute, Strings, and Continuo, RV 439, “La notte” (“The Night”), Gatti and the violinists memorably blended into a thin, transparent sound that only further realized the programmatic element of the work for the audience.
Biondi does minimal conducting from his violin, but the ensemble knows how to breathe and resonate together. In the Allegro from Concerto in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, RV 315, “L’estate” (“Summer”), the ensemble even decayed the sound as one in the sighing figures. As these kinds of ensembles often do, they performed standing. It lends buoyancy to the playing and an overarching freedom to move, interact, and collaborate within the ensemble.
Biondi started the evening as a soloist with the Allegro from the “La primavera” (“Spring”) Concerto. The ensemble did manage to breathe new life into this omnipresent work, performing it at a slower, statelier tempo. There was breadth and space, and it made the work more poetic than the typical performance.
The second half of the program was even heavier with violin concerti than the first, and Biondi quickly tired. One has to wonder why the other fine violinists in the ensemble were not given a featured work. But whatever the case, and despite the nature of an all-Vivaldi program, Europa Galante explored the full gamut of colors possible with their period instruments, and heroically captured the essence of these programmatic works.