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."
When Vivica showed up on stage you could hear people's rapture. She wore a black dress that complimented her beautiful complexion with a red flower on the left shoulder. She looked absolutely stunning. I've never heard Vivica before, and I must say that she has one of the most gorgeous voices. It's not big, but for Baroque one doesn't need a big voice. Right away, Vivica strikes you with her vocal technique. All the tempi were so fast that one would wonder, how in the world can anyone sing so fast? And not every ensemble can play that fast either. But both Vivica and Europa Galante showed the highest class of musicianship and technique.
MM: Harnoncourt will have the Concertgebouw...and I think maybe he started with the Vienna Philharmonic having them use gut strings... VG: Good for him. MM: And approaching a period style. I should think that would be a great—how do you say?—experience for orchestral musicians, to have them rethink their playing a bit and so forth. There's not much interest in that in the U.S. VG: But I think it’s also...It depends on who does the approaching, I mean Harnoncourt, you can’t argue with him; he’s such an institution in Austria, and then also you were saying, that in Europe in general he’s just...he’s untouchable. He’s brilliant and...