Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6/6
Violin Concerto in C, RV187
Flute Concerto in F
Concerto in B minor for four violins and cello, RV580
Concerto Grosso in A minor, Op.5/4
Violin Concerto in D, RV208 (Grosso Mogul)
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini (recorder)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 11 October, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
If an evening devoted to Vivaldi violin concertos seems too much of a good thing, the programme was leavened by a Handel Concerto Grosso and two pieces by Giuseppe Sammartini, the elder brother of the more famous Giovanni Battista. Giuseppe (1695-1750) settled in London, playing in Handel’s orchestra and becoming music master to the Princess of Wales and her children. On this occasion we heard a Flute Concerto (played for some reason on a recorder by il Giardino’s director, Giovanni Antonini) and a Concerto Grosso, an early instance of ‘Sturm und Drang’ and which opens with a movement whose violent agitation and pregnant pauses remind one of CPE Bach; its beautiful Andantino brought a finely played violin solo from Stefano Barneschi.
The ‘flute’ concerto was less satisfactory. Whilst eighteenth-century composers were pragmatic regarding performing music on different instruments, here one could not help feeling that a baroque flute would have made more impact than a recorder. Also, both as conductor and soloist, Antonini does tend to double- dot every I and double-cross every T, with over-manicured results.
The three Vivaldi concertos were carefully graduated so as to provide the maximum variety; just as well since none of the three pieces in the first half had exactly set the heather alight, mainly due to Antonini’s over-fussy direction rather than il Giardino’s playing, which was uniformly excellent.
Fortunately, things moved up several notches for the second half. With the full, 17-strong band (including bassoon, lute and harpsichord), the antiphonal music of the Vivaldi four-violin concerto made quite an impact and was despatched with relish by the soloists, including Mullova. After the Sammartini Concerto Grosso, Mullova was at full stretch in the ‘Grosso Mogul’, one of the grandest of Vivaldi’s violin concertos, music that demands improvisatory abandon and confidence; it received both from Mullova: the leap to fiddle music as heard from folk-violinists in the Appalachians or from Gypsy performers seemed but a small one.