Venice Baroque Orchestra: Stunning Vivaldi
Friday, February 23, 2007 at 12:40PM
Stephen Brookes

February 23, 2007

The Washington Post 2/23/07: 
Pity Antonio Vivaldi. Although he was one of the most imaginative and adventurous of the baroque composers, his reputation has flat-lined under the mass popularity of the "Four Seasons" -- the classical Muzak of malls from Bethesda to Beijing. Decades of courtly performances of his music have numbed untold millions of ears, and he's usually thought of -- when he's thought of at all -- as a skillful (yawn) manufacturer of placid, cookie-cutter concertos.

So it was a revelation to hear the Venice Baroque Orchestra in an (almost) all-Vivaldi program at the Library of Congress on Wednesday. The group's music director, Andrea Marcon, has no use for the "safe" Vivaldi, and he led the ensemble in vivid, nearly reckless performances, tearing the powdered wig off this music once and for all.

carmignola_2.jpgAnd what was revealed was breathtaking. The three concertos and a sinfonia that opened the program were marvels of invention, surging relentlessly with surprising turns and unexpected harmonies. Full of taut, compressed energy, they absolutely radiated with life -- and Marcon and the ensemble delivered them with electrifying power.

But the playing shifted to an even more exciting level when violinist Giuliano Carmignola took the stage. In a concerto by Giuseppe Tartini and three more by Vivaldi, Carmignola showed himself to be a remarkable virtuoso with an astounding palette of subtle effects and a highly individual voice. A charismatic, high-voltage performer, Carmignola played as if everything were at stake -- often lunging into the music as if in some titanic, life-or-death struggle. And in the end, he triumphed: Vivaldi -- after generations of neglect -- had come furiously back to life.

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