I could not think of a better way to spend a cold, blustery evening that hearing the glorious sounds of Baroque music, especially performed by the acclaimed early music group, Il Giardino Armonico; and the concert was performed under the auspices of the Boston Early Music Festival, at Sanders Theatre on February 19. The concert, entitled “A Venezia!,” featured instrumental music from Venice during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first half featured Sonata decimaquinta a 4 and Sonata Decimasesta a 4 by Dario Castello; Canzone a 4 “La Lusignola” and Ciaccona for Two Violins and Continuo by Tarquinio Merula; Sonata seconda a 4, Op.10 by Giovanni Legrenzi; and Concerto in C Major, RV 444 for flautino, strings, and continuo by Antonio Vivaldi. The second half of the program featured Concerto in c minor, RV 441 for flauto, strings, and continuo and Concerto in C major, RV 443 for flautino, strings, and continuo by Vivaldi. and Concerto a 4 in gminor by Baldassare Galupi. The ensemble performed two encores after their standing ovation, the first of which was a piece by Georg Philipp Telemann featuring the entire ensemble, the second a repeat performance of the Ciaccona for Two Violins and Continuo.
Il Giardino Armonico, founded in Milan twenty-five years ago, is devoted to primarily playing 17th- and 18th-century music on period instruments and has a distinguished recording history. This Italian ensemble has eight members: Giovanni Antonini, director and recorders; Enrico Onofri, violin; Marco Bianchi, violin; Stefano Barneschi, viola; Paolo Beschi, violoncello, Giancarlo De Frenza, double bass; Luca Pianca, lute; and Riccardo Doni, harpsichord.
The musicians’ technique and playing was impeccable, and I am always impressed when musicians take the historical performance practice of the period seriously, which each of them did. I was especially impressed by the technique of Antonini on both sopranino and soprano recorders during the concerti. The enthusiasm on the part of the performers directly influenced the performance. They were both having fun and moved by the music.
The first part of the program up to the flute concerto seemed like a single piece with many movements; the performance and gestures after each piece didn’t allow for applause. Though a specialist on Venetian music of the seventeenth century, I couldn’t even discern where pieces and movements start and began, so I can imagine the confusion on the part of the audience! Nonetheless, the ensemble seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, especially Pianca, who played around with different accenting of the notes the ground bass in the ciaccona and the other players effectively followed his changes as if they were reading his mind. Granted, these changes may have been planned ahead of time, and if so, they certainly were done so well as to pass for improvisation, a hallmark of music of this period. As an admitted musical purist, I was slightly unnerved by the doubling and tripling in the piece of parts for instruments not intended to be played — for instance, if a piece is composed for two violins and continuo, the only instruments that should be playing are the two violins, the continuo instrument, and the doubler.
I am always pleasantly surprised at what a crowd the concerts of the Boston Early Music Festival draws — in this case, the concert was performed to a packed house. Of course, Il Giardino Armonico is one of the big names in early music performance, and the evening of music by Baroque masters was satisfying in every way.