In performance: Bach Sinfonia
Ronn McFarlane, lutenist extraordinaire, joins Bach Sinfonia for Vivaldi and his own work
by Joan Reinthaler
To say that Antonio Vivaldi was a prolific composer is a wild understatement. He tossed off more than 500 concertos, along with equally astonishing numbers of operas, sonatas and compositions for the church. It's no surprise that the quality of this output was uneven. What is surprising is how much of it was quite wonderful.
Daniel Abraham's fine Bach Sinfonia and lutenist Ronn McFarlane brought all of Vivaldi's music for lute and strings -- two concertos and two trio sonatas -- to the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Performing Arts Center on Saturday and rounded out the program with a motet and two of his other concertos, and two of McFarlane's own compositions. It was a sampling of both ends of Vivaldi's inspiration spectrum and a fine showcase for McFarlane's virtuosity and musicianship.
(read more after the jump)
The Concerto in D, RV 93 (usually performed as a guitar concerto with string orchestra), is, along with the "Seasons," high on the Vivaldi hit parade, its cool, ambling middle movement a particular favorite. Here it was performed with reduced forces: lute, two violins and a continuo of cello and theorbo (a very long bass lute). Small as it is, however, the hall did not provide the acoustical intimacy that might have projected the lute as the presence it needed to be (a problem throughout the evening), and, with all dynamics scaled down to lute size, the ensemble sounded careful and tentative.
Violinist Marlisa del Cid Woods drew on a wonderful arsenal of bowing inflections as a partner with McFarlane in the G Minor Trio Sonata, a piece representative of Vivaldi's most gracious moments, while violist William Bauer struggled some with intonation in a concerto for lute and viola d'amore.
McFarlane's "On the Heath" for two lutes (with William Simms as a fine partner) was a pleasant set of three folksy, dancelike movements and, in its premiere performance, his "Firedance," with its elements of Irish lamenting and jig-like resolution, was attractive and easy to listen to. Soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, who had sounded uncomfortable and under pitch in the Vivaldi motet, redeemed herself here with a soulful and heartfelt performance.
-- Joan Reinthaler
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