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The Immaculate Fiddler

New York
Perelman Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
03/23/2011 -  
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in G Minor for Violin, Two Oboes, Two Recorders, Bassoon, and Strings, RV 577
Johan Sebastian Bach: Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
Johan Helmich Roman: Excerpts from Music for Drottningholm
Josef Haydn: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra No. 2 in C Major
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 36, "Linz", KV 425

Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Fabio Biondi (Conductor and Soloist)

F. Biondi (© Europa Galante)

Fabio Biondi could well be the most renowned Sicilian musician since Vincenzo Bellini. A superb violinist, he is a prominent conductor, and within his limits – which are quite restricted – a noted scholar as well.

The limitations and assets were well shown in the New York premiere of Norway’s Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, a relatively large ensemble (eighty-four players), which limited themselves last night to late Baroque and early Classical. Four names familiar, one certainly rare. Most important, though, Mr. Biondi’s scholarship in “authentic” Baroque manifests itself from the first notes of a Vivaldi concerto.

First, Mr. Biondi takes the 18th Century role of “concertmaster” literally and seriously. Not for a moment did he lay his fiddle down. Instead, he conducted and bowed his way as soloist in two concertos and three ensemble works, eagerly playing, leading and making lovely 18th Century sounds with his group.

The Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
(© Stavanger Symphony Orchestra)

Nor did he let down the side with his tempos, which were always on the swift side. But as Anne-Sophie Mutter has consistently shown, the Age of Reason had no time to dawdle over inner torments, and almost everything had a danceable, joyful character.

Thus, a movement marked “Grave” in a work by Johan Helmich Roman was played as quickly as the three “Allegro” movements preceding it. The Mozart “Menuet” from the “Linz” Symphony was rushed along more like a jig than a minuet. Bach’s Fourth Suite started with a glorious fanfare, and went on to sweep Carnegie Hall with the most translucent following movements, and a finale Rejouissance which justified its delicious translation.

Mr. Biondi fiddled as many measures as he could, but was at his finest during the Haydn Second Violin Concerto. His moderato playing at the start was perhaps too swift, the orchestra a bit murky, but the second movement was lovely, and the finale was a revelation. Mr. Biondi was playing duets with the First Chair violinist, making an entirely new Haydn sound of sheer joy.

I was most intrigued with the Swedish pre-Berwald composer Johan Helmich Roman, who had probably studied with Handel and who roamed Europe before settling in as a court composer. For a royal wedding in Drottningholm, the German groom brought his own orchestra (according to Paul Griffiths’ always illuminating program notes), so Mr. Roman could write epic Handelian music.

The result was a kind of masque with singing and dancing, though we heard only five orchestral movements. Musically, they weren’t terribly original. But having been to Drottningholm, I could picture the esteemed guests embarking from their boats, walking down to the concert hall and being serenated. It must have been an impressive sight, and Mr. Roman did himself (if not musical history) proud.

The final Mozart symphony was its usual delight. I have heard it played more dynamically, more soberly, but this was a program of felicitous music, and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra did not disappoint.

Nor did Mr. Biondi. For an encore, he played a Haydn Andante with the kind of lulling melody for which Bellini himself would have sighed with happiness.

Harry Rolnick



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