MEDIA PARTNER

Sunday, June 16, 2013

ARCHIVE  •  2013  •  SUN 16  •  MON 17  •  WED 19  •  FRI 21  •  SUN 23

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 4 p.m.

Baroque Concertos

This concert was partially underwritten through
the generous donation of Doreen Hamburger

Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin, viola
Rob Diggins, violin, viola
Jolianne von Einem, violin
Adriana Zoppo, viola d’amore
Shirley Edith Hunt, violoncello
Leif Woodward, violoncello

Festival Orchestra
Elizabeth Blumenstock, leader


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Sinfonia in G major, RV 149
for strings and harpsichord

Allegro molto
Andante
Allegro


Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)
Concerto in D major, GWV 317
for violin and viola d’amore

Grave, e staccati
Vivace
Grave
Allegro


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto in G minor, RV 531
for two cellos

Allegro
Largo
Allegro

Intermission


Charles Avison (1709-1770)
Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 12, No. 6

Largo
Con Furia
Adagio
Vivacemente


Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto in D major, TWV 40:202
for four violins

Adagio, Allegro
Grave
Allegro


Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Concerto in G major, TWV 51:G9
for viola

Largo
Allegro
Andante
Presto


Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto in B minor, RV 580
for four violins

Allegro
Largo–Larghetto–Largo
Presto

 Reception on the Patio


Antonio Vivaldi has long been considered the father of the Baroque concerto, but that genre (also represented in today’s program) was by no means the only form in which he excelled. He also composed many string sinfonias, one of which opens our concert. The little Sinfonia in G major is a breezy and remarkably galant work; Vivaldi was making a serious attempt to be light-hearted and charming, remaking his style in the image of the current popular trends. He was quite successful at this, melding his trademark high-energy and often repetitive figuration into an engaging and entertaining first Allegro.

The Andante is a miracle of crafty texture and effective mood-setting: half of each string section bows the printed notes, while the other half plucks them! The result is piquant and perhaps even faintly sinister. Whimsical and eccentric, the last movement is an athletic romp; though again founded on limited musical ideas, they are so artfully combined, with such rhythmic élan and quirkiness, that the piece rises far above its material. BACK

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Christoph Graupner’s first post was as a harpsichordist in Hamburg, where he worked alongside a young violinist named Georg Frideric Handel. He moved from there to a lifelong post as Kapellmeister and composer at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt. Even one concerto for solo viola and viola d’amore would be unusual... but Graupner did two!

Perhaps even more unusual is the overall character of today’s concerto. One does not think of either the viola or the viola d’amore as a martial instrument — indeed, d’amore suggests love, not war — but there is indeed a bit of a military character present in every movement. The two solo instruments escape this in the third movement, leaving the orchestra to their severe rhythms, while indulging themselves in more florid exchanges. There is a return to the disciplined rhythmicity that informs the military character in the last movement, composed in AABB form.

Comparing Graupner to Vivaldi, you may find that Graupner’s movements are more homogeneous, more “about the same thing” than Vivaldi’s. While that may mean there is less variety to be found within the movement, it suggests that Graupner felt each movement to be devoted to a more or less single effect, which was not an uncommon sentiment among Baroque composers. BACK

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The Concerto in G minor for two cellos, one of Vivaldi’s finest in a high-class field, opens memorably, not with the usual ritornello but with the two soloists, growling, muttering and stamping their feet, as only cellos can. Vivaldi’s basic approach to composition is amply on display: look for plenty of fast repeated notes and lots of dialogue between the soloists.

The grumpiness of the first movement yields to a melancholy Largo for the soloists without any upper strings. In the final Allegro, Vivaldi seems to want to show us just how much cellos can be “regular” instruments: there is not so much focus here on the deep lower register, much more emphasis on playfulness, rhythmic vivacity, and lively dialogue. BACK

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Charles Avison is not a familiar name to most of us, but he was moderately famous in his time. He wrote several opuses of concerti grossi, a form hugely popular in England as a result of the phenomenal popularity of Corelli’s immortal Opus 6. In today’s concerto, as in the other concertos in this opus, Avison indulged his fascination with the keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti, borrowing a movement and arranging it for orchestra. (The borrowed work is Scarlatti’s K. 21, and it appears as the last movement of the concerto grosso.)

The first movement is a gracious and agreeable opener; the second movement, with its unusual marking con furia, became sufficiently well known at the time to become part of a Laurence Sterne novel; the third movement recalls Geminiani in its ornate and expressive writing; and the lively, athletic character of Scarlatti’s keyboard model is faithfully rendered in the closing movement. BACK

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The first of two Telemann concertos on our program today is an unusual Concerto for four violins without orchestra. Its opening slow movement is so very brief as not to really be worthy of the name; it functions more as an introduction to the “real” first movement. Both fast movements are quite Italianate in figuration, relying Vivaldi-like on small repetitive figures, shared in conversational style; and both feature canonical entrances, where each soloist enters in turn, playing the same thematic material. Telemann is really using the word “concerto” here in its simplest meaning, “together.” Unpredictable shifts among the soloists are an integral part of why the piece seems to sparkle: you, the audience, are having your focus constantly moved from player to player. What Telemann gave up in the length of the opening Adagio, he more than makes up for in the Grave. BACK

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At a time when composers like Vivaldi, Albinoni and Bach were writing solo concertos hewing to the standard Italian three-movement model (fast-slow-fast), Telemann (like Graupner) persisted in writing concertos in four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast), which is the standard structure for the more intimate Concerto in G for viola. The opening Largo sings a noble song; both fast movements give the viola the rare opportunity to shine; and the third movement is more typical of a Vivaldian slow movement — with its melancholy tune over a unison bass line — than any of our actual Vivaldi concertos today. BACK

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Vivaldi’s deservedly well-known Concerto in B minor for four violins and orchestra is founded on rhythmic drive, repetitive figuration, and lively soloistic exchanges, all par for Vivaldi’s course. So what makes this piece so particularly great? Let’s explore the possibilities.

Sometimes Vivaldi’s phrase lengths can seem pretty predictable. Not in this piece! One is constantly being surprised when a phrase is completed earlier than expected, or is extended enormously; in other words, Vivaldi’s abundant and eccentric rhythmic gifts are given maximum play here.

In addition, his usual cantabile slow movement is nowhere to be found. Instead, he offers one in two quite contrasting parts, the first a formal and majestic section in which each solo instrument (including violas!) is given a fragmentary solo; this functions as a sort of overture to the meat of the movement, which is positively minimalist. The second, third, and fourth violin soloists play a quite mechanical pattern of sixteenth notes, each with their own consistent pattern of short or slurred notes, while the first violin plays arpeggiated thirty-second notes on the highest line. The violas and cellos maintain steadily repeated 8th notes throughout, the whole amounting to an elaborate rhythmic machine. There is no melody, only this machine, wending its way through a phantasmagoric sequence of harmonies. This is a truly novel approach to composition, almost unique in the period.

The aforementioned phrase irregularities reappear in spades in the final movement, and Vivaldi’s reliance on dialogue is greatly enhanced, mostly because there are so many participants in the conversation — you’ll find your attention being shifted from one soloist to the unpredictable next in very rapid succession! The final solo section briefly recreates something like the concerted rhythmically interlocked texture of the slow movement. BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock

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