Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante presented a program of profound musical discovery at Walt Disney Concert Hall in a traveling program called "Vivaldi, the Farewell Concertos". Revolving around his last tour in 1740, when he travelled to Vienna, the music shows how brilliant were the times and how acutely aligned they were with classical music developments and styles. The music by his contemporaries was outstanding, worthy of hearing again and again. The music by Vivaldi was simply sublime.

Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante © Ana de Labra
Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante
© Ana de Labra

The evening was made up of four major Vivaldi concertos nestled amidst sinfonias and concertos by a quartet of those Viennese contemporaries. There was an incomparably lovely Flute Concerto in D major by Ignaz Holzbauer, played with consummate artistry by Marcello Gatti, and an intriguingly arresting overture to a totally obscure opera by Baldassare Galuppi. Every note the Europa Galante dozen touched turned to gold, had a purpose in the big picture dramatic arc and structure, and was always precisely in tune (Biondi painstakingly tuned them instrument by instrument before each piece). Intonation is justifiably prized in the soloist, but intonation in the ensemble is equally important and infinitely more difficult to achieve.

As good as the competition was, the evening belonged to Vivaldi. Although his four concertos initially seemed similar in every outward to the music by Galuppi, Holzbauer, Georg Reutter, and Johann Georg Reinhardt – and in terms of form and dramatic sense, they all shared similar concerns, and there were memorable moments in every piece – with every bar of every movement, Vivaldi moved into far reaches of imagination and emotional richness that left his contemporaries far behind. And in the three big violin concertos – RV 222, 189, and 372 – they clearly surpass the last Mozart concertos in mature power and beauty and rival Bach's three violin concertos. Vivaldi's ability to freeze time and integrate solo passages of immense difficulty to trigger immense experiential ecstasy is unequalled; compared to these concertos even the wonderful, eternally fresh beauties of The Four Seasons come from a different place in his mind.

The Disney Hall concert showed once more that Fabio Biondi is truly a transcendent virtuoso of our time. With his calm deliberation, staggering technique, and comprehensive knowledge of – and feel for – period authenticity, Biondi paid homage to Vivaldi in concertos that challenged the greatest virtuosos of his day, and of any day – with devastating results. The difficulties were not restricted to the soloist. The small band of violins, viola, cello, bass, harpsichord and lute matched the soloists in rhetoric, color and on an endless succession of key logistical issues, which further amplified the music's power to transform time and space. 

As a group the sound was never less than ideally homogeneous; even the harpsichord and the lute made magical contributions during quieter bridge sections and in slow movements. The response from the audience was tentative at first but by the end of the evening was so warm and generous that you could feel the musicians were sorry not to be able to give them the encores they wanted. But three major violin concertos on one night was really enough.

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