Italian Baroque instrumental music is much more than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. In "Flights of Fantasy," a new collection of chamber music from the seventeenth century, violinist Monica Huggett and members of the Irish Baroque Orchestra capture the remarkable diversity and sometimes outlandish color of this era in music. It’s this week’s Full Rotation.
While Huggett has built her career mainly in Europe, she's suddenly a busy figure on New York's growing early-music scene. In 2008, Juilliard launched its graduate degree program in historical performance and named her its artistic director. She frequently performs with the conservatory’s ensembles, adding to a resume that includes co-founding the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and being a founding member of Christopher Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music. With the Irish Baroque Orchestra, she has previously recorded all of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
This collection focuses on a period when Italy was a hotbed of the latest musical fashions in Europe – think of it as the Brooklyn of its day. Thanks to a rise in the nobility and mercantile classes, composers were able to write secular music for instruments after decades, if not centuries, of being under the thumb of the Catholic Church.
The album’s centerpiece is Carlo Farina’s 15-minute Capriccio Stravagante, or "Outlandish Whim," which, clearly ahead of its time for 1627, featured a catalogue of bizarre and outlandish effects designed to imitate dogs barking and cats meowing, as well as folk instruments, gunfire(!) and more. The effects -- double stops, clusters of dissonant notes and glissandos -- were borrowed from so-called German "beer-fiddlers."
Some of these same effects turn up in a work by Austrian Heinrich Biber, and the collection includes his Harmonia artificiosa-ariosa (though he was Bohemian-Austrian, his music had an Italian flavor). Other standouts include Giovanni Legrenzi’s La Fugazza, a solemn fugue with sudden, quicksilver shifts; Dario Castello’s Sonata Seconda, a dashing violin showpiece that flows like a jazz improvisation; and Francesco Cavalli’s finely wrought Sonata a 6. Harpsichord buffs will want to check out Frescobaldi’s Canzona Terza, a nice complement to Huggett’s tasteful and expressive violin playing.
This album can be heard throughout the week of Sept. 6 on WQXR
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Flights of Fantasy: Early Italian Chamber Music
Monica Huggett, violin
Irish Baroque Orchestra Chamber Soloists
Available at ArkivMusic.com