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Rockin’ And Rollin’ With The Orphanage Gals

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
01/16/2016 -  
“Chiara’s Diary: A Life at the Pietà Orphanage 1730-1770”:
Giovanna Porta: Sinfonia in D Major for Strings and Continuo (arr. Biondi)
Antonio Vivaldi: Sinfonia in G Major for Strings and Continuo, from Il Coro delle Muse, RV 149 – Concerto in D Major for Violin, Strings and Continuo, RV 222
Nicola Porpora: Sinfonia in G Major for Strings and Continuo, Opus 2, No. 1
Antonio Martinelli: Concerto for Violin in E Major (arr. Biondi) – Concerto in D Major for Viola d’amore and strings
Andrea Bernasconi: Sinfonia in D Major for Strings (arr Biondi) – Sinfonia in D Major for Strings (arr. Biondi)
Fulgenso Perotti: Grave for Violin and Organ in G Minor (arr. Biondi)
Gaetano Latilla: Sinfonia n G Major (arr. Biondi)

Europa Galante: Fabio Ravasi, Eliu Gabrielsson, Barbara Altobello, Andrea Rognoni, Luca Giardini, Rossella Borsoni (Violins), Stefano Marrcocchi (Viola), Alessandro Mandriani (Cello), Patxi Montero (Violone, or double-bass), Giangiacomo Pnardi (Theorbo), Paula Poncet (Harpsichord, Organ), Fabio Biondi (Founder, Leader, Violin, Viola d’amore)

F. Biondi (© Ana de Labra)

Origin of the name ‘Violin’: ...based ultimately on the name of Vitula, a Roman goddess of joy...”

John Ayto: Dictionary of Word Origins

What a perfect description for the music of the 11-piece Europa Galante last night. From the first brisk steps of leader Fabio Biondi and his ensemble to the rapid scales of a Sinfonia by Giovanni Porta, this was the music of gallant style joy. The sinfonias and concertos by eight mostly unknown composers of the middle 18th Century were vivacious, snappy, and refreshing. This was music without tears, without subtext, music to show off technical prowess, and generate–yes, the word fits–entertainment.

True, the subtitle of the concert had a sober story behind it, a tale for which David Lang might find some music. A two-month-old girl was found in front of Venice’s charitable institution, “Ospedale della Pietà, in 1718. Unlike similar institutions throughout Europe–basically workhouses–Venice supported this orphanage for practical and “artistic” purposes. Thus the most eminent composers and teachers throughout Italy and abroad came to teach the girls music.

And (in the words of conductor Biondi) it “observed the passing of the revolution in musical vocabulary form the Baroque to Classicism from behind the gates of these cloisters.”

That orphan, Chiara began study of violin, was precocious in playing (Vivaldi and others dedicated music to her), in composition (her cadenzas were played last night) and continued performing and writing at the age of 73, dying the same year as Mozart in 1791.

Granted, none of the music played last night had–what elite critics call–the “depth” or “profundity” of a Mozart of Haydn. What it did have was total joy, under the leadership of Mr. Biondi and the others.

One must of course give allowance to the period instruments here. None of the fiddles had the sharp echoing resonance of our own violins. The basso continuo wasn’t a single keyboard or bass line: Mr. Biondi filled it out with harpsichord, cello, violine (a kind of bass violin) and a beautiful theorbo plucked by Gianglacomon Pinardi.

Europa Galante (© Ana de Labra)

Save for a few solo works (the lovely Fulgenso Perotti Grave for violin and organ, which could have been from a Bach Passion; and the Vivaldi-like Porpora Sinfonia for Two Violins and Continuo), this was all ensemble work. Mr. Biondi had arranged several of the works, and he served as typical 18th Century concertmaster, setting the tempo, strolling around, giving physical emphasis with his own violin.

Fabio Biondi is of course not limited to 18th Century music. The Palermo-born artist is also music director of several European orchestras, and he recorded the mainstream Schumann Concerto. But his love is obviously solo playing here, and he literally–in fiddle terms–let out all the stops.

He had arranged several of the works (I wish I had known the originals for comparison) and composed cadenzas for nearly all of them. The exceptions were some very melodic cadenzas created by Orphan Chiara herself.

The first came when Mr. Biondi put down his violin and picked up a viola d’amore in the most resonant piece, Antonio Martinelli’s Concerto. Like the difference between a six-string and 12-string blues guitar, the viola d’amore gave a gorgeous plangency, the double-fingering seeming easier, that short cadenza made for the instrument. Her second cadenza was in the aforesaid Grave, where organ and soloist intertwined, taking some strange modulations.

In fact, we heard music which veered far from the usual picture of this music. A Martinelli Violin Concerto had an opening which sounded like Haydn, went into a slow middle movement, and ended with, what he called Allegro spirituoso. I thought it would be a spiritual ending–but I guess it meant “spirited”, for that is what it was.

Virtually all the music ended with music that should have had Zankel Hall rockin’ and rollin’ on the aisles. These were dance tunes, with big thumping rhythms and peasant melodies. (No, I looked around, and felt self-conscious smiling, almost laughing with the music. Everybody else was quite studious.)

Vivaldi was of course the most prominent composer, and, while equally buoyant, the most conservative. Mr. Biondi and Europa Galante played a Sinfonia and a short Violin Concerto was well as two encores. One was (of course) from Seasons, the other a pizzicato slow movement of a work totally unfamiliar to anybody but specialized Baroque scholars.

The composer, as we know, had to leave the Orphanage after a long stay because of a sexual indiscretion. As a minor priest, this was frowned upon. Yet listening to the music created for that orchestra, one feels that no composer or teacher could have resigned themselves to celibacy. Their creations were more spirited than spiritual, their emotions were more secular than reverential...

And as we can guess from Europa Galante last night, the young girls who performed were inspirational–and like the music itself, absolutely irresistible.

Harry Rolnick



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