To open their 24th season, the Portland Baroque Orchestra performed a whole evening of Vivaldi concertos last night at First Baptist Church, and that's a pretty tough program. I mean, even though most audiences love Vivaldi's music, it's a real challenge to make each piece sound unique and interesting and beautiful. Well, artistic director and virtuoso violinist Monica Huggett and the PBO kept digging deeper and deeper into the music and delivered outstanding performances of four concertos from Vivaldi's Opus 11 (1729) and two from his Opus 3 (1711), which is also known as "L'estro armonica" (Harmonic innovation).
Huggett, the featured soloist in all of the concertos for solo violin, strings and basso continuo from Opus 11, combines a marvelous technique and artistry that is mesmerizing to watch and hear. Her control allows her to speed up and slow down in the same measure. It's sort of like watching a great basketball player shift gears in mid stride, then change his shot, and swish the ball through the hoop without touching the rim. At one moment Huggett seems to be whirling her right hand like with an egg beater motion and in another moment, a lush, silken, lyrical melody starts.
These Vivaldi concertos for solo violin are not all that different from attending a rock concert with an gifted guitarist in the spotlight. Only this time it is Huggett who gets to riff all over the place.
I also like the way the Huggett inspires the ensemble, which is a top notch group of musicians from Portland and around the nation. Their sound can be tight but not cramped, expansive but not limp, noble and stately, but not rigid and sterile. I heard a lot of warmth and really good rhythmic drive. So that we were always looking forward to the next concerto.
The two concertos from the "L'estro armonica" were also excellent. violin soloists Carla Moore and Joli von Einem teamed up to perform a satisfying Concerto No. 8 in Aminor (RV 522). They blended their sound perfectly, but perhaps could've been a little bit louder when the rest of the ensemble joined them. Violinists Rob Diggins and Adam LaMotte collaborated with cellist Joannna Blenduff to give a superb interpretation of Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Diggins put extra verve on his playing, especially with the way he could lean into a note an put an extra sheen on it. He also shows a real joy in music making that adds a lot to the overall atmosphere.
The enthusiastic applause at the end of the concert encouraged Huggett and the orchestra to play a movement from Concerto No. 3 in A major - from Opus 11. We didn't get to hear the entire concerto, but those of you choose to attend this evening or on Sunday afternoon at Kaul Auditorium will hear it all. The concert program at each performance differs slightly, and, all of the performances are being recorded for the PBO's 25th Anniversary Vivaldi double-CD.
PS: Apparently, rampant speculation on Vivaldi's sex life is the subject of upcoming movies and books. Click here to read that article from The Times (of London).