Words like “Lively,” “energetic,” and “idiosyncratic” are understatements when it comes to the fiery interpretations of Baroque ensemble music—above all Vivaldi’s—Fabio Biondi has achieved with his virtuoso string orchestra, Europa Galante. In this capacity he comfortably alternates, in true Baroque fashion, between his role as leader and, when called for, as soloist. Last February 20, he appeared as a soloist with Kenneth Weiss, great New York-based harpsichordist, for a program consisting mostly of Bach, with one work by an Italian native, the Bergamasque Pietro Antonio Locatelli. Once one heard a movement or two of Bach’s Violin Sonata in G Major, it became clear that the program was founded on an argument—that Bach’s Violin Sonatas, which he wrote around 1725-6 at Cöthen, are essentially Italianate in character—no surprise, in fact. Mr. Biondi’s brilliance and warm Sicilian temperament blazed out in every bar, with strongly inflected phrases and dramatic pauses between them. Not everyone appreciates Biondi’s intense musicianship. For my part, I admire it and very much enjoy his performances of Vivaldi and other Italians. In this concert, however, I found his playing mannered and distracting. Of course we all know that Bach looked to Italian models in his instrumental music, above all Vivaldi, of whom Förkel said that his music “taught him to think musically.”
Early Music, etc.
For the last two years Grand Harmonie has presented concerts of early chamber music – and sometimes larger ensemble music – that feature historically accurate wind and brass instruments. Now this group of young musicians from New York and Boston is growing into a full period instrument orchestra focused on 19th-century repertoire.
A heavy snowfall, bitter winds, and icy sidewalks failed to deter an enthusiastic audience from nearly filling the Morgan Library’s Gilder Lehrman Hall on January 21, when the Boston Early Music Society continued their New York series with a concert by the London Haydn Quartet with Eric Hoeprich, the great historically informed clarinettist and instrument-maker, who were offering a program of Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. The bare white basement space that serves as the lobby of the hall is hardly the most attractive part of one of New York’s most elegant institutions, but its heating was welcome enough, and once one enters the auditorium, one can enjoy some warmth of design and acoustics as well.
Early Music, Autumn and Winter, in New York City: Australia Comes to Juilliard, Messiah at St. Thomas’, Boccherini, etc.
In the past, New York has seemed rather impoverished in historically informed concerts, especially in comparison to Boston, which, with BEMF and several mature period orchestras and chamber groups, is truly the center of the movement in North America, although if you were attentive and looked around, you could find some rewarding events in churches and even Zankel Hall. In the past two or three years, however, early music in New York has grown explosively. The primary reason for this is easy enough to find, the founding of the Historical Performance Program at Juilliard under the direction of the irresistible Monica Huggett in the fall of 2009. By now the first crop of students is on the loose in the city, and they are dangerous!