Fabio Biondi, conductor and violin, with Vivica Genaux, guest mezzo-soprano, joined an ensemble of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on February 9th, 10th, and 11th in a concert program consisting of Corelli concerti grossi, Vivaldi violin concertos and Baroque opera arias performed at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan.
Arcangelo Corelli wrote and arranged for publication in 1714 a collection of twelve concerti, acknowledged to be “some of the finest examples” of the Baroque-era’s concertos for a concertino group. The first one presented here, and the first piece on the program, Op. 6, No. 4, “Concerto grosso in D Major”, has a joyful sound developed in 4 distinct movements. By contrast, the second presented, the last piece on the program, Op. 6, No. 11 “Concerto grosso in B flat Major”, while also sprightly, is known to be a chamber sonata filled with Baroque-era dancing motifs.
The 3 Antonio Vivaldi violin concertos, “Violin Concerto in D Major”, RV 222, 1737; “Violin Concerto in E Major”, RV 271, 1728, known as “L’amoroso, (the lover) and “Violin Concerto in F Major”, RV 284, 1714, performed immediately before and after the intermission as well as the penultimate piece on the program, were performed with both precision and depth by Biondi. They all convey a welter of feeling; 222 is the most technically difficult piece with a dramatic intensity; it can be fairly said that 271 (L’amoroso) is the most lyrical, and 284 demonstrates a good deal of inventiveness “within a defined framework of instrumental and harmonic forces”.
The 4 arias, breathtakingly sung, two before and two after the intermission, were: as the second and third pieces on the first half of the program: ”Sposa, non mi conosci” (I am wife and I am scorned) from “Merope”, by Geminiano Giacomelli, 1734; and “Gia presso al termine” from “Adriano in Syria” by Francesco Maria Veracini, 1735; and as the second and third pieces on the second half of the program: “Questi ceppi “ from “La fede ne tradimenti” by Attilio Ariosti, 1701; and Vivaldi’s “Agitata da due venti” from “Griselda”, 1735.
The Giacomelli piece, from an Italian opera after a tragedy by Euripides, was sung in full-throated splendor, packed with emotion and showed off both Genaux’ lustrous voice and range as well as her technical prowess. The exquisite technique she demonstrated in the Veracini piece was both versatile as well as intelligent; she wrapped her voice around the song in expert fashion. The Ariosti work, based on an incident between two kings, contained a lovely and quiet melodic line and exceptionally complex phrasing. Finally, the “Agitata de du venti”, probably the most recognizable aria in “Griselda”, was presented in a beautifully heartfelt and deeply passionate manner. This is a singer who is an absolute joy both to watch and to hear.
The concert was a veritable extravaganza of the Baroque, well balanced in presentation choices, beginning and ending with Biondi conducting while playing Corelli, with 3 solo-driven pieces featuring Biondi, and 4 arias of Genaux’ accompanied by the ensemble led by Biondi. The CSO members were uniformly tight and well balanced- principal cellist John Sharp particularly shone- in the concerto grossi and throughout the program, although Biondi’s performances while conducting seemed sometimes lackluster, at other times more spirited. However, there was a strong communicative link between conductor and ensemble, which led to finely shaded textures and quick changes in tempo. All in all, Biondi, with the support of CSO associate concertmaster Stephanie Jeong leading the ensemble, framed Genaux who stole the show with her charming manners revealed in eloquent gestures, and her simply amazing voice.
For information and tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it’s attendant programs and side series, go to the CSO website