Vox Amadeus: all-Vivaldi concert

Hold the entrée, bring on the hors d'oeuvres

Beckmann: A much-abused instrument.
Beckmann: A much-abused instrument.

In his remarks from the podium, Valentin Radu described the pieces on the first half of the Vox Amadeus all-Vivaldi concert as "appetizers" for the second-half main course, The Four Seasons. For me, the appetizers were the main attraction.

Every few years, we go through a period in which every music organization in the city feels it has to program a popular item. This time around, it's The Four Seasons— a nice piece, but I've heard it too often recently. Vivaldi's enormous output includes dozens of entries that are just as inventive and charming, and offer a greater variety of instrumental colors.

The three concertos on the first half of Radu's banquet played with the musical personalities of four different instruments and featured five of Philadelphia's most appealing musicians: recorder master Rainer Beckmann, cellist Vivian Barton Dozor, trumpeter Elin Frazier and violinists Thomas DiSarlo and Thomas Jackson.

Hypnotic performance

Beckmann emigrated from Germany some four years ago and quickly established himself as a presence in Philadelphia's early music community. Vivaldi's first C major concerto for the soprano recorder is one of the brightest works ever created for that much-abused instrument, and Beckmann gave it a hypnotic performance.

The alto recorder is the standard solo instrument in the recorder family, but the soprano can sound just as melodious in the hands of an expert, and it creates a more penetrating sound that cuts through an orchestral accompaniment. Beckmann bounced through the two outer allegros and floated over subdued resonant strings in the dreamy slow movement.

Vivaldi's D Minor concerto for two violins and cello features a true dialogue between the two violins and the cello. It calls for a cellist who can play with real flair, and Vivian Barton Dozor brought a spirited voice to a conversation that pitted her against DiSarlo and Jackson.

Vivaldi's modern helper

Vivaldi's trumpet concerto in D Minor is an interesting mixture of Baroque and Baroque Revival. Vivaldi wrote it for the oboe, and the great 20th-Century trumpeter Maurice Andre arranged it for the trumpet, in exactly the same way Baroque musicians and composers frequently altered the instrumentation of concertos.

Elin Frazier added to the historical potpourri by playing the concerto on a Baroque Revival instrument: a long trumpet, with four valves, that a French instrument maker fashioned in the late 19th Century. Where Baroque trumpeters played valveless "natural" trumpets, Frazier's long-valved trumpet approximates the sound of the natural trumpet and reduces the extra lip work that the natural trumpet demands.

The trumpet part in the D Minor concerto is curvier and less jagged than many trumpet solos, perhaps because of its oboe origins, and Frazier gave it the kind of expressive playing it requires.

About those Four Seasons

I'd skip reviewing The Four Seasons if I had my druthers, but that wouldn't be fair to soloist Thomas DiSarlo or the hard-working, high-spirited musicians who accompanied him. Most people don't spend their lives traipsing from concert to concert the way reviewers do, and we critics should take that into account.

DiSarlo and his colleagues delivered a performance that featured bright strings, high-speed allegros, and poetic adagios. DiSarlo received a big hand at the end, which he deserved— even if this audience member would have been just as happy if Valentin Radu had filled the second half with a repeat of the first.♦

To read a response, click here.

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