13 March 2010


Antonio Lucio Vivaldi - 04 March 1678 to 28 July 1741

It was Vivaldi’s birthday ten days ago, and the Portland Baroque Orchestra celebrated with an all-Vivaldi program this evening. A son of La Serenissima, The Most Serene Republic of Venice, Vivaldi was called il Prete Rosso — “The Red Priest” — in reference to the color of his hair, though the most famous portrait of Vivaldi shows him in a white wig as was the custom of the time.

I have come to expect the highest performance standards from the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and I was not disappointed. The noted recorder player Matthias Maute was present for the first, second, and last pieces, showcasing these lesser-known works of Vivaldi. For the first two Maute played an alto recorder, and for the last piece he played a soprano recorder. It was also announced that Monica Huggett, leader of the PBO, would be having her debut at Carnegie Hall later this month.

In the Concerto in D major, known as “Il Grosso Mogul,” so named for the exotic “Oriental” character of the second movement, it was explained that a scribe was present at one of Vivaldi’s own performances of this work, and he recorded Vivaldi’s actual cadenzas, which Monica Huggett played tonight. The preservation of these candenzas is quite unusual, and candenzas for this reason have been a disputed point in historically informed performance, since it was known that baroque players were expected to improvise, but so few examples of improvisation were written down for posterity that contemporary players have little to go on, and the performance traditions have largely been lost.

As exciting as it was to have this unusual window onto the work of Vivaldi, indeed, onto the actual performance of Vivaldi, the best part of the program was the spirited encore that was not on the program. Matthias Maute said that they would play a Hungarian folk tune from the eighteenth century, and PBO took it up with gusto. It was a lively piece of only a few minutes duration, and very different in spirit from the Vivaldi. It was the kind of music that immediately puts a smile on one’s face. I think I even laughed out loud (quietly) at the sudden contrast between the Vivaldi and the Hungarian folk tune.

Lastly, there was a second encore, again only a few minutes in duration (less than five, I would guess, as I didn’t think to time it), and again a sudden contrast in the texture of the music. They did not identify this last piece, for which Matthias Maute played a flute, but it sounded thoroughly contemporary. I would not be surprised if it was something composed by Maute himself. These final two encores alone were worth the price of admission and left me feeling very happy that I had attended.

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