For Sunday night’s concert (part of the Washington Early Music Festival, which runs through the end of the month), the ensemble looked at what lead violinist Elizabeth Field called the “tug of war” between Italian and French composers of the baroque. The French tended to be more restrained, with an emphasis on harmony rather than melody, and the Italians were more emotional and freewheeling.To drive the point home, the group contrasted a quintessentially French work, the Suite from “Thesee” (1675) by Jean-Baptiste Lully, with Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in G Op. 3 No. 6. Lully’s music can be hard for modern ears to warm up to; although beautifully made, it’s formal to the point of chilliness. There’s often a mincing, precious quality that’s not to every taste. The Corelli, by contrast, was a vibrant and much earthier piece featuring superb playing by Field with the gifted violinist Allison Edberg, ensemble co-founder Stephanie Vial on cello, Joseph Gascho at the harpsichord and William Simms on theorbo.
Chamber Music Wilmington continued its season at St. Paul’s church, with a concert devoted entirely to music of Antonio Vivaldi. It was an evening of high-quality music making by The Vivaldi Project, whose members are much in demand in the early-music world and in fact perform a good deal of music besides Vivaldi.
The string instruments used strings made of gut, as in Vivaldi’s time – as opposed to the steel strings now standard. This gives a different tone and character to the sound. The continuo section had a strong presence, being as much as half or more of the ensemble, which varied between a total of seven and eight. The stage picture, and the sound, were enhanced by the presence of an instrument probably unfamiliar to many modern audiences: the theorbo. This is a long-necked bass lute from the Renaissance whose strings stretch well beyond the working length of the player’s arm. It added a deep and wonderfully lush resonance to the continuo.
The program began with the Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in D minor, Op. 3/11, RV 565. This piece set the tone for the program. The playing had a rhythmic dynamism and lovingly shaped phrasing. Each player performed with apparent passion. What stood out in the phrasing was the beautiful tapering of the lines and at times the nuances of swelling within phrases. Soft sections had a particularly clear, attractive sound. The spiccato sections offered attractive timbral contrast.
The following Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 8/7, RV 242, featured energetically phrased solos by Elizabeth Fullard. It illustrates Vivaldi’s remarkably prolific output, being the seventh full concerto in an opus which also includes the famous Four Seasons. It is subtitled Il piacere, and as the name suggests, offered the soloist improvisatory-style sections along with the notated virtuosity.
The third work, Concerto Ripieno in A Major, RV 158, was a concerto without soloists, a type extensively cultivated by Vivaldi. This attractive piece had an especially mellow, reflective second movement.
A standout piece followed. This was the Concerto for Viola D’amore in D minor, RV 394. Allison Edberg played the solo on the viola d’amore with sensitivity and beauty of tone, more than compensating for the somewhat restricted dynamic range of the instrument. Her sound in the largo was lustrous. An especially attractive feature of the piece was the passages in which the soloist was accompanied by a single instrument winding around it with its own independent line. Her cadenza, rather than brilliance, brought a meditative quality.
The following Concerto for Violoncello in G major, RV 413, featured the excellent Stephanie Vial as cello soloist. There was a good deal of virtuosic, energized writing here, and Ms. Vial played it with flair. A nice feature of the first movement was the shifting rhythmic patterns, something often lacking in Vivaldi. This movement also had passages with the soloist accompanied by a single violin, which was a lovely sound. The soloist’s soft phrases were projected beautifully. This was the case in the second movement as well, which had the cello playing with just the continuo, and gave the soloist a showcase for expressive phrasing. The upbeat third movement, like the second, had unisons at the start, here lively as opposed to thoughtful.
The Concerto in C minor for Strings and continuo, RV 118, another ripieno concerto, closed the program with plenty of dynamic rhythms and sequences, as well as a nearly virtuoso passage for the continuo in the last movement.
Every member of this fine chamber-sized ensemble seemed to play with passion. Performing on original instruments contributes substantial beauties and the players are clearly masters of this challenging art. It might be added that the informative and relatively extensive program notes were, like the playing itself, in a passionate style which effectively advocated for the variety and excitement of the music. If the listener did not come away with the sense of uniqueness in each piece which the written descriptions intended to impart, the energy and expression of the performances brought forth a great deal. The audience in the nearly-filled church, attentive throughout, responded with heartfelt appreciation.
For the past six years or so, The Vivaldi Project has been on a mission: to explore not only the music of the early baroque period, but also the astonishingly rich musical language, with its own precise grammar of expression, that underlies that music. The intriguing idea has made the ensemble’s concerts, as it showed Sunday at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, into events that forge intriguing ties among composers of the time.
No sooner had the Corelli ended, a heart-stopping crack rang out: The neck of Simms’s theorbo (a sort of lute with an extended neck and as many as 20 strings) had snapped. Simms was sidelined, but the group soldiered on with an early Vivaldi sonata and a fascinating trio sonata by Francois Couperin called “L’apothese de Corelli” — a French interpretation of the Italian style.
Amid baroque art, Vivaldi Project transports listener to Venice in its glory
Cecilia H. Porter, The Washington Post 2/22/11
Sunday's stunning concert at the National Gallery of Art was all about Venice and for
good reason. The Vivaldi Project ensemble saluted the new exhibition in the East
Building, "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals," with music centered on a city that
blossomed in the Renaissance and baroque periods as a commercial crossroads that
lavished its wealth on arts of all kinds.
Covering music of the 17th and 18th centuries, the program Sunday featured works
shimmering with the colorful luminescence that Canaletto lent his brilliant panoramas of
Venice. With groups such as the Vivaldi Project, the tide is turning from approaching
early music in a careful, overly literal reading of the notes to electrifying improvisation
beyond the fanciful melodies already embedded in the scores. The group advances early
music performance practice by its finely drawn characterizations of each piece.
The musicians moved from the plaintive laments and playful fugues of a sinfonia by
Alessandro Stradella to a Handel trio sonata and one of Vivaldi's Suonate da Camera a
Tre, Op. 1, combining violinists Elizabeth Field and Allison Guest Edberg and cellist
Stephanie Vial with continuo support by Joseph Gascho on the harpsichord and William
Simms on the theorbo, an antique form of lute.
Pieces by Giovanni Legrenzi were marked by vigorous allegros and mellow adagios, and
the musicians reveled in the dance rhythms of a sonata da camera by Antonio Caldara.
Gascho raced through his witty parody of Handel's and Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard
styles. The final Vivaldi ended the concert in a storm of electrifying improvisation
impelled by a throbbing metrical pulse. Read Full Review
The Vivaldi Project Presented the Vivid Virtuosity of C.P.E. Bach String Writing
William Thomas Walker, The Classical Voice of North Carolina 9/15/10
The Vivaldi Project, a firstrate period instrument ensemble dedicated to presenting 17th
and 18thcentury string repertoire, opened its tour of Piedmont NC in Brendle Recital Hall
on the lovely campus of Wake Forest University. The ensemble on this occasion consisted
of three violinists each in the first and second violins, two violists, two cellists, a double
bass, and harpsichord. The conductor was John Hsu . . .
Stephanie Vial spoke from the stage giving brief, germane comments about the ensemble
Prussian Court, commissioned these works and told the composer he need make no allowances
for the skills of the orchestra. Bach took as his inspiration the string technical skills of the
soloist parts of Vivaldi's works and applied them to every player! . . .
"rapid scales, arpeggios, and multiple stops." Each string section played exactly together as one
player no matter how abrupt the change in dynamics or tempo. This group cannot be booked to
return to our concert venues too soon. Read Full Review
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun 6/3/08
On Sunday evening, a sizable crowd welcomed the Vivaldi Project, a D.C.based, period
instrument ensemble, to the Baltimore Basilica for a concert presented by An die Musik and
the Basilica's Historic Trust. The tight ensemble delivered a program of baroque fare rich in
solo opportunities for founding concertmaster Elizabeth Field, a poised and stylish player.
The reverberant acoustics in the exquisitely renovated church obscured many a detail of the
refined counterpoint flowing through concertos by Vivaldi, Corelli and Scarlatti. But the
mushy sound could not defeat the buoyant spirit, expressive warmth and technical fluency of