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Venice Baroque Orchestra @ Dumbarton Oaks

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Vivaldi, Concertos and Sinfonias for Strings, Venice Baroque Orchestra, A. Marcon
(Archiv, 2006)
Although the Venice Baroque Orchestra has been on American tours more recently, the last time they visited Washington was in 2011, at the National Gallery of Art. In his recordings of Vivaldi's instrumental music thus far, Andrea Marcon has focused on the pieces featuring string instruments, often in partnership with gifted violinist Giuliano Carmignola. For their program at Dumbarton Oaks, heard on Monday evening, the ensemble brought along five woodwind players, to play four of the composer's concertos scored "con molti strumenti," with a larger consort of instruments than Vivaldi generally used.

Vivaldi composed at least two of these concertos, RV 576 and 577, for the Kammermusik, instrumental ensemble, of Friedrich August, the Prince Elector of Saxony. According to Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot, the German prince came to Venice for his "clandestine conversion to Catholicism." Visiting the Ospedale della Pietà with their employer, the prince's musicians hit it off with Vivaldi, especially a violinist named Johann Georg Pisendel. The prince and his musicians acquired copies of many Vivaldi pieces and, especially when Pisendel became concertmaster in Dresden, they inaugurated what Talbot refers to as a "Vivaldi cult" in the prince's Hofkapelle in that city.

The VBO's period-instrument oboes, recorders, and bassoon made a splendid, slightly raucous noise in RV 577 ("Per l'Orchestra di Dresda"), especially in the intense slow movement, accompanied only by theorbo. The third movement had a more extended part for solo violin, too, an example of Vivaldi's admiring writing for Pisendel. The concert ended with RV 576 ("Per Sua Altezza Reale di Sassonia"), again buzzing with active details in the first movement, with concertmaster Gianpiero Zanocco not necessarily distinguishing himself in the first two movements, redeemed by a more focused third movement. Two other concertos with prominent woodwind sections, RV 566 and 564a, rounded out the concept, with the Largo of RV 566, a genial intertwining of two recorders, bassoon, harpsichord, and theorbo, standing out as a moment to be treasured.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Venice Baroque Orchestra goes for broke at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington Post, April 12)

James R. Oestreich, Venice and Vivaldi, Center Stage at the Metropolitan Museum (New York Times, April 11)
A concerto for the not quite effective pairing of solo oboe and violin, RV 548, was a bit of a disappointment, not due to the beautiful melodic lead of the oboe lines. The most splendid solo vehicle was RV 316a, a concerto adapted by Bach for the organ, heard here in a version for flautino, a high recorder, played with brilliant finger technique, flowery embellishments, and endless breath support by soloist Anna Fusek. Two concerti grossi, Corelli's op. 6/4 and Handel's op. 3/1, rounded out the program, featuring the string sections in some of their better moments, although the violins often seemed just slightly out of touch with Marcon in the concert's least satisfying aspect.

Marcon conducted while playing the continuo part from the harpsichord, an instrument modeled on a 17th-century Italian instrument by Thomas and Barbara Wolf, which made some beautiful sounds. Two encores, Handel's chaconne from Terpsichore and a reprise of the third movement of RV 577, brought the evening to a close -- as well as the season at Dumbarton Oaks, which the audience toasted at intermission with a glass of prosecco.

The Venice Baroque Orchestra returns to the area next season, on the concert series at Baltimore's Shriver Hall (February 12, 2017).

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