Europa Galante performs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15, Orchestral Music and Early Music

Thursday 19th February

Town Hall

Europa Galante
Fabio Biondi violin/director
Vivica Genaux mezzo soprano

Vivaldi Sinfonia from Ercole sul Termodonte 4’
Stabat Mater 20’
Alma opressa from La fida ninfa 5’
Agitata da due venti from l’Adelaide 6’
Four Seasons 43’

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons need no introduction; but however well you know these best-loved of baroque concertos, nothing quite prepares you for the ‘wonderful esprit, bravura and finesse’ (BBC Music Magazine) that Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante bring to the music of their great compatriot. To hear the incomparable Vivica Genaux in Vivaldi’s haunting Stabat Mater is a glorious bonus.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

Truly one of the great Baroque composers, Vivaldi produced an enormous body of work, some of which has become the most famous in classical music history. I urge you to watch this performance of some of the prolific composer’s most important works, performed by an expert band.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “With such an exhilarating first half it would have been easy for the second period to have been an anti-climax, but the Europa Galante players ensured the excitement remained at fever pitch with a blitzkrieg of an engagement with Le quattro stagione. It had an element of the wild and untamed, a presentation that made it difficult to stay still in your seat. This was programme music of the highest calibre, each of the four seasons having been associated by Vivaldi to a sonnet describing how nature changes her coat. Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, La primavera (Spring) started peaceful enough, but as nature took a hold in the first Allegro movement, there was a magnificently symbolic representation of nature bursting forth – the nimble fingers of Fabio Biondi representative of new life emerging from the ravages of hibernation, the double bass seemingly wanting to quell such an affront. The second Largo movement had spring on hold, Biondi and the pizzicato of the first viola consolidating the green shoots, time as the sonnet relayed for the shepherd to take a nap before the next push. The third Allegro movement had the Europa Galante players giving thanks in celebratory style with a major contribution from the three first violins.

 Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, L’estate (Summer) began in lethargic mood (Allegro non molto) with some sumptuously mellow harmony, befitting the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer, birds singing and soft winds blowing. The anticipated storm worries our shepherd in the Adagio: a virtuosic solo allowed Biondi to paint a graphic picture of both the blessed blossom and the troublesome insects. But stemming from the oppressive heat, temperatures on both stage and auditorium were raised by the fiery tempo of the Presto, energy and passion unbounded in the violence of the storm. Although the resident orchestra of the Fondadzione Teatro Due in Parma must have played the work a hundred times, it still sounded fresh as their obvious enthusiasm had not dimmed.

 Having stood up to the battering of the first two concerti, the strings of Biondi’s Guarneri were subjected to more punishment in Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, L’autunno (Autumn). The ever-so-familiar opening Allegro strains led into an attention-grabbing conversation between the breaks of Biondi and the remaining erectile violinists arranged around their leader. But there was nothing casual about it as both the theorbo of Giangiacomo Pinardi and the harpsichord of Paola Poncet made forceful expletives. In the Adagio molto Poncet did have her moment, suggesting an autumnal feel, heralding a distinct change in the air. The strings caught the mood and echoed it with feeling, shades of mists and mellow fruitfulness. However Vivaldi had other ideas and indications of an Indian summer emerged in the third Allegro section before the final strains indicated a ‘going to sleep’. No wonder the instrumentalists checked their tuning at this point!

 And when winter comes in Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, L’inverno (Winter) there was a grimness to Europa Galante’s Allegro non molto tone, interspersed with more dynamic finger and bow movement from Biondi. Indeed Biondi was rarely static throughout the four concerti (reminding me of the legendary Stefan Grapelli) yet showing little evidence of fatigue. An interesting application of double stopping built the tension to the closing repeat of the main theme. The Largo was another example of Vivaldi’s penchant for recycling a good tune (this one having been borrowed by Hayley Westenra in her River of Dreams) although with Biondi’s players there is always something new to hear, notably in this instance some musical gymnastics on the cello; together with the pizzicato on the strings it reminded me of a steam train about to set off, with the pure pitch of Biondi’s solo both driver and station master. The third Allegro phase of winter, part recapitulation, part reflective, proved how adept Biondi’s technique is at manoeuvring between Vivaldi’s hemi- demi-semi-quavers (even quicker than Genaux, and that’s saying something). The whole was true to Vivaldi’s intention to compose a work that was a contest between harmony and invention – a concert to remain in the memory for a very long time!”

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