Italian ensemble brings Romantic verve to concertos at Tropical Baroque Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Il Giardino Armonico performed Tuesday night in Coral Gables at the Tropical Baroque Festival.

The Miami Bach Society’s Tropical Baroque Festival presented the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico in a journey through the musical world of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Venice Tuesday night at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Coral Gables.

Three recorder concertos by Vivaldi showcased the remarkable versatility of flutist-director Giovanni Antonini, backed by the seven-member ensemble. A sampling of the byways of the Italian Baroque yielded some unexpected gems as well as more formulaic scores.

This excellent early-music group combines superb instrumental technique with finely honed ensemble skills. Eschewing the chilly, pedantic approach of some period bands, the players’ beauty of tone and intensity of expression brought the contrasting scores to vivid life.

Violist Stefano Barneschi’s prominent tone was warmly resonant with robust phrasing. The delicate and vigorous lute playing of Luca Pianca highlighted this forerunner of the modern guitar. Cellist Paolo Beschi and harpsichordist Riccardo Doni provided lively commentary on continuo.

With violinists Enrico Onofri and Marco Bianchi taking the lead, the Sonata decimaquinta by the little known Dario Castello proved a real discovery. Alternately contemplative and vigorous, the score offered suggestions of the Rococo era to come. With an elaborate viola line and strong rhythmic pattern for lute, the piece was clearly advanced for its era.

Other works by Tarquinio Merula, G.B. Buonamente and Giovanni Legrenzi offered a glimpse of the Italian Baroque before Antonio Vivaldi. The beguiling instrumental textures of Legrenzi’s Sonata seconda a 4 took pride of place with an inventive coda to the final gigue.

For sheer originality and profusion of gracious melodies, the Concerto a 4 by Baldassare Galuppi was enchanting and offered extended solo opportunities for each of the instruments. This well-traveled composer served stints writing incidental music for theater in London and as court composer to Russia’s Catherine the Great. The Italian players reveled in his elaborate harmonies and elegant ornaments.

Inevitably the music of Vivaldi outdistanced the other composers on display. The flautino concertos are a font of melodic riches and awesome test of the player’s agility. Antonini played a small recorder in two concertos in D Major, proving remarkable in tonal sweetness and daunting speed. With this smallest of instruments, Antonini executed trills with élan, exhibiting impeccable Baroque style. Indeed his breath control was awesome, particularly in the rapid hornpipe-like finale of the concerto, RV 444. In the Largo of RV 443, Antonini framed a plaintive serenade in one long wave of tone that held the audience in its spell. The echo effects between soloist and strings in the concerto’s outer movements were a delight.

For the Concerto in D minor, RV 441, Antonini switched to an alto recorder, an instrument with a larger, darker sound. In the slow movement, he produced low tones of  grave beauty, surprisingly expressive for a Baroque instrument. Clearly enthused by Antonini’s instrumental mastery, the audience awarded him and the players repeated standing ovations, eliciting an encore of one of the concerto movements, a vibrant conclusion to a truly festive evening.

The Tropical Baroque Music Festival continues 8 p.m.. Wednesday at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables with musicologist and recorder player Pedro Memelsdorff and soprano Barbara Zanichelli. The Arcanum ensemble presents Almost Bach 8 p.m. Thursday at Riviera Presbyterian Church. 305-669-1376;

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Wed Mar 2, 2011
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