Despite arid acoustic, Venice Baroque Orchestra brings vibrancy to concertos
The Venice Baroque Orchestra has played in some of Washington’s most attractive acoustics over the years: the Music Room at Dumbarton Oaks, the Music Center at Strathmore, and the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress.
The West Garden Court at the National Gallery of Art was too reverberant for their style of playing in 2011. In an extreme contrast the Kennedy Center Theater Lab, where they performed the same repertory of Italian Baroque concertos on Monday, was far too dry.
This time around the ensemble brought only its string sections, and the smaller sound of their historical instruments did not receive the acoustic clothing needed to give it life. The lack of resonance in the room magnified any intonation discrepancy or shortcoming in tone quality. A set piece, presumably from the Kennedy Center’s long-running production of Shear Madness, was left exposed to give the sound something to bounce off, but did little to improve the situation. (The regular venue of the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts, the Terrace Theater, is still undergoing renovation.)
Andrea Marcon, conducting from the harpsichord, often used his gestures to remind players not to give too much sound, lest it be pushed into stridency, leading to a meekness in expression that did not always satisfy the ear. In brilliant fast movements, like the opening of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major (Op. 6, No. 4), the violins still sparkled. The Vivace dance movement Corelli inserted into the normal three-movement structure was even more spritely, buoyant, and unified in articulation.
Ivano Zanenghi on the archlute filled out harmonies with diverting figuration in slow movements like that by Corelli, and Marcon made improvisatory liaisons between movements on the harpsichord. The ensemble’s favored manner of clipping articulation on short notes, as in the first movement of Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in A Minor (R. 419), sounded here almost toneless, more percussive than sonorous.
Soloists excelled all evening, beginning with cellist Massimo Raccanelli Zaborra in this concerto. Rapid finger work and expert bowing were impressive, but his ability to find rhythmic room for expression in both fast and slow movements was even more so. The finale, a hybrid of a ground bass pattern and a ritornello form, had a seductive, folk music-like allure, enlivened rhythmically by syncopated strumming patterns in the archlute.
Zaborra and his cellist colleague, Federico Toffano, were on equal footing in Vivaldi’s quirky Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos (R. 531). In the slow movements of this concerto, among others, Marcon had just the soloists and archlute play through the first repetition of the melodic material, which allowed the soloists to add embellishments and take more time to differentiate the music the second time around.
Lead violinist Gianpiero Zanocco and three of his colleagues played well in the evening’s most famous work, Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins (R. 580), and especially brilliantly in the outer fast movements. However, Zanocco was at his best, as was the whole ensemble in terms of clarity and ensemble unity, in Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso No. 12, based on Corelli’s Violin Sonata known as “La Follia.” Each repeat of the famous chord pattern that underlies the piece featured virtuosic contributions from various parts of the orchestra, especially from Zanocco and Zaborra.
The only misstep came in Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Major for Two Violins (R. 516), with the opening Allegro movement set at a tempo too fast for comfort for soloists and orchestra, causing intonation and accuracy to suffer. Two works by lesser composers, Charles Avison’s Concerto Grosso No. 3 and especially Pietro Locatelli’s Concerto Grosso in G Minor (Op. 1, No. 11), sounded precisely drilled but fell short in musical inspiration. This was not the case with the charming encore, the entire Concerto in G Major by Baldassare Galuppi, with its brief, fizzy finale a delight.
Next up in the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series at the Kennedy Center is the Aizuri Quartet 7:30 p.m. February 20. kennedy-center.org; 202-467-4600.