The British period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima has been dedicated to performing the music of Vivaldi and his peers since its founding in 1994. If this sounds like a pretty specialized mission, you're right. But then again, if you have to pick a place and time in Western history to focus on, you could do a lot worse than 18th century Venice.
La Serenissima ("The Most Serene") is, of course, a nickname for Venice, a once-great commercial hub and port city whose courts and churches produced a wealth of great music. The ensemble's latest album, “Venice by Night,” seeks to portray a night in Venice, with several thematically linked sections, starting with the arrival by Gondola. As the detailed booklet notes by founder Adrian Chandler point out, popular gondola songs were all the rage in this era, sometimes adapted by the upper classes for salon performances in which strings and continuo were added to the mix. This collection includes three charming examples.
Naturally, Venice’s most famous musical son gets pride of place on the collection. La Serenissima plays two Vivaldi concertos that would have been heard in a private concerts — the Concerto for Bassoon (with soloist Peter Whelan on a plucky period bassoon) and the dashing Violin Concerto in E minor with Chandler as the nimble and lyrical soloist. The musical journey also stops at the opera house to sample two enjoyable selections from L’Olimpiade, Vivaldi's (now-timely) Olympics opera.
Venice may have been Vivaldi's town in the 18th century, but his music wasn't the only game in town. The album includes some neglected but worthy composers including Veracini, Lotti and Pollarolo. A particular standout is a remarkable Sinfonia for trumpet and strings by Giovanni Porta. The native of Venice was enormously in demand as an opera composer in Italy before becoming the court Kapellmeister in Munich. Why he’s not better known today is a bit of a mystery but this collection shines some welcome light on his output.
Venice by Night
Adrian Chandler, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com