Europa Galante's 'La Stravaganza'

Sunday, May 08, 2011

It was Stravinsky who supposedly said that Vivaldi composed the same concerto 500 times. And given a certain formulaic nature of the Italian concerto framework (fast-slow-fast) it's easy to assume that if you've heard one, you've heard 'em all. But thanks to period-instrument groups like Europa Galante, and its director Fabio Biondi, it’s much easier to grasp the sheer variety of Vivaldi's imaginative output. Our Album of the Week is a prime example, an anthology of seven violin concertos, including six from the composer's collection, “La Stravaganza.”

In many ways, “La Stravaganza” – meaning the extravagant or unexpected -- sums up the performances by Biondi, an Italian violinist who founded Europa Galante in 1990 to assert his country's presence on this international scene. The group has a particular reputation for resurrecting works of Vivaldi and bringing an extra edge to their performances.

"La Stravaganza" is enormously varied set of concertos, some fiery and propulsive, others notable for their ethereal slow movements or stark nobility. The pieces were written for performance in England where “gentlemen amateurs” would fill out the string sections of the orchestras. As a result, the section parts have a relatively simple and unaffected character. Yet to compensate, the solo violin parts are extremely demanding, extravagant and wild. Playing a baroque violin, Biondi whips along like a dervish where required while still exuding a serene, comforting sense of the shape of things. Particularly enjoyable are the brisk final movements of the concertos in F major, a key in which Vivaldi excelled. If you've heard The Four Seasons one too many times, this album offers a refreshing alternative.

La Stravaganza
Europa Galante; Fabio Biondi, violin
Virgin Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Q2's Album of the Week:

Even if you didn’t know Florent Ghys’s provenance (he was born in Lyon, France), you’d be able to immediately detect some Gallic roots in his newest, and impossibly chic EP, Baroque Tardif: Soli. Take, for instance, the album’s opening—a staccato upright bass (Ghys) accompanied with rhythmic clapping, a combination that wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky, underground Latin Quarter café.

But Ghys doesn’t linger in the old-school world of boatneck tees and Goddard films for too long. In fact, he generally can’t stay in any aural spot in these 24 beguiling minutes. He flirts with a modern, experimental vibe on Simplement, which mimics a conversation between Ghys and Aline Brunet both rhythmically and melodically. Setting bass to conversation, Ghys pulls out the lyrical qualities of everyday talking and the conversational aspects of music. Ghys then jumps into Ravelian waters as performer and composer with the shimmering pianino work Coma Carus before drying off with the insouciant homage to blinking lights, Clignotants. Bèchamel brings the EP to a hauntingly dissonant close, leaving us anxious for the remaining Baroque Tardif EPs due for release from Cantaloupe.

Equally exciting is Ghys’s full-length album, due for release on the same label in September of this year. Here is a composer who is endlessly fascinated by the sense-triggers in our lives, and his compulsive curiosity is addictive: The obsessive fascination he has for the world is mutual. 

Florent Ghys joins us on Monday, May 9 at 4 pm for a live chat on The New Canon.

Florent Ghys
Baroque Tardif: Soli
Cantaloupe Records

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.

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