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The musicians of the Vivaldi Project have as their focus "bringing the music of the 17th and 18th centuries to life." A goodly number of music lovers and area musicians gathered in the ideally intimate Person Recital Hall for the ensemble's program, Les Goûts-Réunis, which focused on the cross-pollination between French and Italian Baroque styles. This juxtaposition and blending of the two styles, the French suites of dances against the Italian sonatas, with alternating slow and fast movements, was the goal of Les Goûts-Réunis of François Couperin (1688-1733). The musicians explored this focus through trio sonatas, mostly, ranging from the Italian Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) through the French Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764).
The musicians were violinists Elizabeth Field and Allison Nyquist, who alternated as princial violin, cellist Stephanie Vial, and special guest harpsichordist Elizabeth Wright. Most of the selections were scored for a pair of violins with basso continuo consisting of cello and harpsichord. Period instruments or reproductions and tuning were used. The intonation, phasing, and tone of the string players were superb throughout. Ornamentation was applied tastefully. Wright's keyboard support was a model of clarity that gave constant pleasure.
Two Italian works, played with the briefest of pauses between them, opened the concert. Violin virtuoso-composer Arcangelo Corelli established the form of the Italian style. His Sonate a tre, in C, Op. 4, No. 1 (1694), with its slow, fast, slow, fast movements, was contrasted with the Sonata da camera in G minor, Op. 2, No. 4 (1699), of cellist composer Antonio Caldara (1671-1736), a composer of 87 operas, who was more famous for vocal music. Violinists Field and Nyquist were delightful as they negotiated the intricacies of Corelli's fast movements and his flowing, polished slow movements. Their give-and-take was aptly dramatic or mournful in Caldara's more emotional or operatic style. With movement terms like allemande, corrente, giga, and gavotte, Caldara's work resembled the old-style French suites of dances.
French composer Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) studied violin and composition with the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87), who dominated the French Court's musical life and gradually began the assimilation of the two national styles. Rebel was one of the earliest pioneers of trio sonatas in France. His Sonata No. 6, in G minor, "The Immortal" (1712), blends "French idiom and gesture in the Italianate form" (unsigned program note). Violinists Nyquist and Field were excellent as their parts were by turns paired, set against each other, or taken in turn. Vial brought a rich tone to Rebel's more imaginative scoring for the cello that went beyond being in lock step with the keyboard.
Cellist composer Giovanni Bononcini (1670-47) was renowned for his operas and more than 200 cantatas. In his Sonata No. 2, in G minor, for the chamber, for two violins and bass doubled (1732), Vivaldi Project players brought out all the full, rich melody of the slow movements and remarkably idiosyncratic melodic lines and rhythms of the fast ones.
Cellist Vial was given free rein in the Cello Sonata in B-flat, No. 4 from Book III (1739) by Jean Barrière (1707-47), which ended the first half of the concert. In introductory words, Vial speculated that cellist-composer Barrière must have had large hands with extraordinary reach for the fingering. Harpsichordist Wright quipped he must also have had a big ego as the continuo part is very much overshadowed by the cello's! Vial's reach was more than adequate as she tossed off a plethora of double stops, wild arpeggiations, and some remarkable bowings from a virtuoso quiver.
The Vivaldi Project could not resist opening the second half of their concert with a work by their namesake, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Sonata da Camera a Tre in F, Op. 1, No. 5 (1705) (RV. 69), ends with a Gavotta-Presto which the players interpreted and played like a French gavotte with two upbeats. They brought out all of Vivaldi's bustling virtuosity in the other movements.
Wright was given a fine solo turn in a medley from Pièces de Clavecin by Couperin. In "Le Dodo ou L'amour en Berceau," in which melodic lines are interwoven while the player uses one hand for the upper manual," Wright's playing was flawless. She clearly brought out the contrapuntal textures in "La Régente ou la Minerve"; dedicated to the regent or his wife the Duchess of Orléans, the reference to Minerve, the goddess of Wisdom. probably alluded to its learned scoring. From Ordre XIV, wholly devoted to birds, she chose "La Linote-éfarouchée" (The Frightened Linnet*) and "Les Fauvétes Plaintives"(Plaintive Warblers). In the latter, Wright brought out all the avian qualities in its sad D minor scale larded with trills, turns, and dotted rhythms. Bringing this group to a close, she brought out the pastoral overtones of "Les Silvans" (1713), regarded by many as one of the finest of Couperin's keyboard works.
The concluding work, a Sonata in D for two violins, d'une execution facile, from Première Récréation de Musique, Op. 6 (1736), by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), served to present a perfect amalgamation of the two styles, a serious suite of dances of the French and the spontaneity and generalized movements of the Italian. The ten movements ran the gamut from a solemn French overture to various dances, ending with a solid chaconne. The players brought great verve and temperament to the fast sections and plenty of warmth to the slow parts while giving each dance apt rhythms.
*Linnet: a small bird of the finch family. Its scientific name, Linaria cannabina, alludes to its preference for cannabis seeds while the English refers to its preference for flax seeds....