The Vivaldi Project

The repertoire is charming and the playing, on period instruments, is superb. Strings Magazine

Reviews
Reviews of Discovering the Classical String Trio, vol. 2
“The Vivaldi Project consists of three superb string players... Their second MSR release proves just as captivating as their first. [In JC Bach’s Trio] Field and Nyquist revel in the first movement’s conversational playfulness... all three musicians point up the rhythmic variety and contrapuntal repartee in the central movement of Campioni’s Sonata. By contrast, the Haydn Divertimento’s aria-like first movement stands out for the players’ strong characterisation of their individual parts: the violinist’s silver-toned decorative writing, the viola player’s resonant pizzicatos and the cellist’s sensitively parsed bass lines. Also note the ensemble’s impeccably calibrated embellishments and balancing of lines in Klausek’s moody Trio, and the perfectly matched declamatory unisons at the Bréval Trio’s outset... their rich yet never excessive timbral ripeness fills out the disc’s concluding Vivaldi Trio to the point where a cembalo basso continuo option becomes moot. Producer and Engineer Richard Price deserves equal credit for the recording’s attractively realistic concert-hall ambience... Highly recommended and, needless to say, I look forward to future volumes in this important series.”
Jed Distler, Gramophone [February 2019]
“I delight over and over again to the various pieces so beautifully performed that they never become boring or stale as chamber music can be when it is pedestrianly performed by the score alone. I cannot in my mind single out better known works by Vivaldi and Haydn, over lesser known ones by Gossec or Klausek, on the album because each of its seven works flow together as a whole... Evident in these collections of musical pieces, musicians at their best bring to our ears the celebration of life a composer intended when he created the music.”
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [December 2018]

"The group’s exquisite sense of ensemble, vibrant sound, and ardent cantabile represented period instrument playing at its best. All these riches continue in Volume 2.   . . . The ensemble is captured in vibrant recorded sound, and this disc once again comes recommended with great enthusiasm. The period instrument world could use more practitioners like The Vivaldi Project."    

Michael De Sapio, Fanfare Magazine [January/February 2109]

"The group presents works by such eminent composers of the period as Haydn, Gossec, and J.C. Bach, as well as delightful obscurities from the likes of Johann Ignaz Klausek and Jean-Baptiste Bréval. And the program ends with a trio sonata by Vivaldi. The playing (on period instruments) is delightful and this disc, like [Volume 1], would be a welcome addition to any library collection.”
Rick Anderson, CD HotList for Libraries [December 2018]
[ * * * * ] “[Compared to Volume 1], this CD is equally delightful in its exploration of hitherto almost completely unknown repertoire... the trios heard here are redolent of earlier sensibilities, being light, beautifully balanced, unchallenging to the ear, and exceptionally pleasant... The melodies of all the works flow easily, naturally and pleasantly, the harmonies are carefully managed to intrigue the ear in easy-to-grasp ways, and the interplay among the instruments – especially the violin and viola – is managed with care and sensitivity. The Vivaldi Project, whose three members play with consummate skill throughout this disc, can spin out its rediscovery of trios of this era for quite some time if it so chooses... Additional volumes like this and the first one would be most welcome: there is nothing profound about any of these works, but in their generally simple beauty and largely uncomplicated forms, they offer some very welcome musical respite from the rigors and complexities of everyday life today...”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad.com [November 2018]
[ * * * * ] “lively... dynamic contrasts... buoyant charm... lush unison... sporty dialogue... suave, strutting phrases... bravura charm... virtuoso status... sonority and resonance... intelligent play...”
Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition [November 2018]
Reviews of Discovering the Classical String Trio, vol. 1
“The trio performs these works with skill and energy. It is clear that they have devoted long hours to how the phrasing and contours of the works can sound to make them come alive. This is superb playing that will certainly lead to a renewed interest in the genre. This is a great disc to have and is highly recommended.”
Bertil van Boer, Fanfare [November/December 2016]
 
“The Vivaldi Project, here making its debut recording, gives us period string playing of a high caliber. Voluptuously vocal string sonorities are anchored in a driving rhythmic pulse that never turns abrasive, with phrases exquisitely contoured and articulated. These performances exude great joy as well as stylistic expertise... [the instruments] ring out with warm, full, resonant sound. This is a fine-sounding recording... This enlightening disc will give you a renewed appreciation of the string trio... It will also leave you with a taste for some under-appreciated 18th-century composers. Although all the music is worthwhile, the Campioni and Giardini strike me as particular gems.”
Michael De Sapio, Fanfare [November/December 2016]
 
“This is indeed a pleasant way to explore some little-known classical works written for a not too common instrumentation... The music is played with taste and warmth by this female trio, and the gradual changes of style contribute to a program that is beautifully organized and gives us a lot to think about. It is recorded with fine clarity and balance.”
Moore, American Record Guide [November/December 2016]
"The Vivaldi Project, . . ., has released a disc sampling the delightful, diverse string-trio repertoire found in the Classical era. The disc . . . highlights works by unjustly forgotten composers such as Carlo Antonio Campioni, Christian Cannabich, Felice Giardini, and Giuseppe Cambini.  The repertoire is charming, and the playing, on originial instruments, is superb.   . . . In her enlightening program notes, Vial points out that only a few Classical string trios by Mozart and Beethoven now receive regular performances and recordings, but there were over 200 compositions for their combination written during the era, and the works on this recording all hail from the second half of the 18th century. Each work is two or three movements long, and the variety in the writing is amazing.  The performances highlight the diversity of the works, from the busy writing of the Bach to the delicacy of Boccherini, to the sweetness of the Cannabich, which features high solos for the cello, to the richness of the Giardini. This is lovely music, beautifully played, and deserves to be heard much more often."
Sarah Freiberg, Strings Magazine[October, 2016]
“your library needs a copy of this in its collection... The music sparkles and the playing is exceptional”
CD Hotlist: New Releases for Libraries [October 2016]
“[The Vivaldi Project] recently has branched out in an intriguing way. They’ve devoted themselves to a largely unknown repertoire of string trios from the Classical era and begun to record the results of their research... The Vivaldi Project musicians have been delighted to discover that string trios from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are richly diverse in content, structure, and even instrumentation... The musicians have found that the writing in many Classical trios tends to be highly virtuosic, calling upon each instrument to stand out both in acrobatic and poetic contexts as they engage in artistic conversation.”
Donald Rosenberg, Early Music America [September 2016]
“The string trio tends to be overlooked today. Yet from the classical period on there have been some wonderful examples. The Vivaldi Project, a trio with plenty of spunk and precision, give us seven great examples… Trios by JC Bach, Campioni, Boccherini, Franz Joseph Haydn, Cannabich, Giardini, Cambini all give us wonderfully clean lines and lots of chance for the trio to show off their brio energy... There is a nicely busy, energetically configured set of lines for the players to delve into and the Vivaldi Project show us they are up for it. The clean simplicity and lyricism speak as directly to us now as they no doubt did then... The trios in the hands of the Vivaldi Project have a charm and sonorousness all their own. This is a real change of pace listen. After hours of heavy fare, one turns to this program with no little delight. Definitely recommended.”
Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical Review [August 2016]
[ * * * * ] “All the world première recordings on this splendid disc are worthy of a place in chamber recitals... There are many surprises on this fascinating CD... these are true chamber pieces, intended for what was in effect salon performance... Melodies flow easily, harmonies are pleasant, and balance is always carefully thought through... The members of The Vivaldi Project, who apparently had a great time digging out these works from the dust heaps of musical history, also appear to have a grand time performing them... [the works on display here are] genial and highly attractive...examples of small-chamber-group thinking in the Classical era.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [August 2016]
“Only a handful of string trios from the Classical period have survived as a part of the modern day repertoire, but might there be other musical gems waiting to be rediscovered? The resulting disc offers a resounding yes to that question. The pieces here are stylish, charming and full of inventive writing within the lighter texture of the trio setting. The performances are superb -- sensitive and vital. The detective work that went into uncovering these works makes this release an important contribution to Classical chamber repertoire. The committed performances make this a disc to love.”
Colorado Public Radio [August 2016]

Concert Reviews

The Vivaldi Project's HIP Survey of Les Goûts-Réunis at UNC

By William Thomas Walker

December 16, 2018 - Chapel Hill, NC:

 

The musicians of the Vivaldi Project have as their focus "bringing the music of the 17th and 18th centuries to life." A goodly number of music lovers and area musicians gathered in the ideally intimate Person Recital Hall for the ensemble's program, Les Goûts-Réunis, which focused on the cross-pollination between French and Italian Baroque styles. This juxtaposition and blending of the two styles, the French suites of dances against the Italian sonatas, with alternating slow and fast movements, was the goal of Les Goûts-Réunis of François Couperin (1688-1733). The musicians explored this focus through trio sonatas, mostly, ranging from the Italian Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) through the French Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764).

The musicians were violinists Elizabeth Field and Allison Nyquist, who alternated as princial violin, cellist Stephanie Vial, and special guest harpsichordist Elizabeth Wright. Most of the selections were scored for a pair of violins with basso continuo consisting of cello and harpsichord. Period instruments or reproductions and tuning were used. The intonation, phasing, and tone of the string players were superb throughout. Ornamentation was applied tastefully. Wright's keyboard support was a model of clarity that gave constant pleasure.

Two Italian works, played with the briefest of pauses between them, opened the concert. Violin virtuoso-composer Arcangelo Corelli established the form of the Italian style. His Sonate a tre, in C, Op. 4, No. 1 (1694), with its slow, fast, slow, fast movements, was contrasted with the Sonata da camera in G minor, Op. 2, No. 4 (1699), of cellist composer Antonio Caldara (1671-1736), a composer of 87 operas, who was more famous for vocal music. Violinists Field and Nyquist were delightful as they negotiated the intricacies of Corelli's fast movements and his flowing, polished slow movements. Their give-and-take was aptly dramatic or mournful in Caldara's more emotional or operatic style. With movement terms like allemande, corrente, giga, and gavotte, Caldara's work resembled the old-style French suites of dances.

French composer Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) studied violin and composition with the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87), who dominated the French Court's musical life and gradually began the assimilation of the two national styles. Rebel was one of the earliest pioneers of trio sonatas in France. His Sonata No. 6, in G minor, "The Immortal" (1712), blends "French idiom and gesture in the Italianate form" (unsigned program note). Violinists Nyquist and Field were excellent as their parts were by turns paired, set against each other, or taken in turn. Vial brought a rich tone to Rebel's more imaginative scoring for the cello that went beyond being in lock step with the keyboard.

Cellist composer Giovanni Bononcini (1670-47) was renowned for his operas and more than 200 cantatas. In his Sonata No. 2, in G minor, for the chamber, for two violins and bass doubled (1732), Vivaldi Project players brought out all the full, rich melody of the slow movements and remarkably idiosyncratic melodic lines and rhythms of the fast ones.

Cellist Vial was given free rein in the Cello Sonata in B-flat, No. 4 from Book III (1739) by Jean Barrière (1707-47), which ended the first half of the concert. In introductory words, Vial speculated that cellist-composer Barrière must have had large hands with extraordinary reach for the fingering. Harpsichordist Wright quipped he must also have had a big ego as the continuo part is very much overshadowed by the cello's! Vial's reach was more than adequate as she tossed off a plethora of double stops, wild arpeggiations, and some remarkable bowings from a virtuoso quiver.

The Vivaldi Project could not resist opening the second half of their concert with a work by their namesake, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Sonata da Camera a Tre in F, Op. 1, No. 5 (1705) (RV. 69), ends with a Gavotta-Presto which the players interpreted and played like a French gavotte with two upbeats. They brought out all of Vivaldi's bustling virtuosity in the other movements.

Wright was given a fine solo turn in a medley from Pièces de Clavecin by Couperin. In "Le Dodo ou L'amour en Berceau," in which melodic lines are interwoven while the player uses one hand for the upper manual," Wright's playing was flawless. She clearly brought out the contrapuntal textures in "La Régente ou la Minerve"; dedicated to the regent or his wife the Duchess of Orléans, the reference to Minerve, the goddess of Wisdom. probably alluded to its learned scoring. From Ordre XIV, wholly devoted to birds, she chose "La Linote-éfarouchée" (The Frightened Linnet*) and "Les Fauvétes Plaintives"(Plaintive Warblers). In the latter, Wright brought out all the avian qualities in its sad D minor scale larded with trills, turns, and dotted rhythms. Bringing this group to a close, she brought out the pastoral overtones of "Les Silvans" (1713), regarded by many as one of the finest of Couperin's keyboard works.

The concluding work, a Sonata in D for two violins, d'une execution facile, from Première Récréation de Musique, Op. 6 (1736), by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), served to present a perfect amalgamation of the two styles, a serious suite of dances of the French and the spontaneity and generalized movements of the Italian. The ten movements ran the gamut from a solemn French overture to  various dances, ending with a solid chaconne. The players brought great verve and temperament to the fast sections and plenty of warmth to the slow parts while giving each dance apt rhythms.

*Linnet: a small bird of the finch family. Its scientific name, Linaria cannabina, alludes to its preference for cannabis seeds while the English refers to its preference for flax seeds....

The Vivaldi Project's Fascinating Survey of Too Little Known Classical String Trio

By William Thomas Walker

June 10, 2017 - Durham, NC:

Other than Beethoven's Trio in C, Op. 9, No.3 and Mozart's quaintly named masterpiece, Divertimento in E-flat, K. 563, the string trio repertory is virtually unknown to all but the most avid music lovers. An ongoing venture by The Vivaldi Project will open up a whole segment of engaging, well-crafted music that has been gathering dust in libraries for three centuries. Since 2015, these player-scholars have been immersed in exploring both the relationship of the classical string trio to the earlier baroque trio sonata and its function as a popular 18th-century genre competing with the emerging string quartet. Between (1762-70) string trios outnumbered string quartets by more than five-to-one! The quartet form's success left a vast repertoire unknown and unplayed.

The title of this concert tour is Discovering More Classical String Trios. The fruit of an earlier tour is permanently recorded in the ensembles' CD, Discovering the Classical String Trio, Volume 1, MSR Classics 1621. The remarkably intriguing works on this program will appear in a future Volume 2 release. The members of The Vivaldi Project are violinist Elizabeth Field, Allison Edberg Nyman on both period violin and viola, and cellist Stephanie Vial. Multiple bows were used by all, Baroque for the first half, and transitional bows (much like modern ones) after intermission. Vial’s superb program notes succinctly distilled musicology along with musical description and were heavily drawn upon for this review.

With this performance taking place in wonderful acoustics of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, works by four early Classical composers filled the opening half of the concert, beginning with the Sonata in G, B. 37 (c. 1755-62) for two violins and basso by Johann Christian Bach (1735-82). It is in two movements, a rarely designated Allegrino followed by a Tempo di Menuetto. A comparison of the naming of the opening movement in a similarly named edition led to taking it moderately slow Andante. Both movements are cheerful with attractive themes and a welcome combination of the violins in unison and contrasting dialog.

The next work, Sonata in G minor, Op. 1, No. 2 (1762) for two violins with a through bass for harpsichord or cello by Carlo Antonio Campioni, proved to be a really winning discovery. Thomas Jefferson, an avid amateur musician, so liked Campioni's works he wanted his European vendor to send "everything else he has composed." Its three movements are Largo andante, Allegro spiritoso, and Allegro assai. The cello part often abounds in rich bass-line melodies. The middle movement exhibits the composer's remarkable melding of Italianate drama with French elegance. Open-string double stops and inventive pairings evoke the droning country bagpipes of a lively gigue of the finale.

The defining and massive string quartet mastery of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) has helped obscure the rich inventiveness of his surviving 18 string trios such as Diverimento in D for two violins and basso, Hob.V:15 (c.1755-62). Its three movements are Adagio, Allegro, Menuet-Trio. It has the composer's characteristic love of surprises and sudden twists and turns. Sometimes the first violin sings an aria-like melody above the cello's harmonic outline and pizzicato from the second violin suggesting a lute.

François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was one of 18th century France's most prolific composers, musical impresarios, and conductors. His Trio in F for two violins, basse, et cors ad libitum, Op. 9, no. 3 (1766) gives each player a turn with bravura passages over its two movements: Allegretto, and Tempo di Menuetto. The cello is treated independently in both and a plethora of techniques conjure a complex texture.

After intermission, Nyquist switched from violin to viola and all three used transitional bows.

The Trio Concertant et Dialogué in B-flat, Op. 27, No. 4 (1786) by Jean-Baptiste Sébastien Bréval (1753-1822) is in three movements Allegro, Adagio, and Presto. All three players get challenging passages in the fast outer movements. The highest register of the cello is frequently exploited over the course of a piece suggestive of witty Parisian Salon conversation.

The Italian violinist and violist Allessandro Rolla (1757-1841) was a prolific composer of more than 500 instrumental works in all forms, besides being an important conductor. Both the older Italian string writing style and the newer Viennese classical style are present in his Trio Concertant in F, Book 2, No.1 BI 341 (n.d.). It is in three movements Allegro, Thema con variazioni andantino moso, and Rondo allegro. Rolla writes music that skirts the edge of what is possible of period instruments with their flatter and shorter fingerboards. Several times both violinist and cellist finger beyond its edge. The work is a wild, virtuosic showpiece!

All three players of The Vivaldi Project – Field, Nyquist, and Vial – played with extraordinary mastery of style and marvelous control of intonation. The kaleidoscopic breath of string color and tone was a constant pleasure. This was the second concert of their tour of this program. I look forward to their second CD volume's release!

The String Trio Rediscovered; & "The Heavy Lifting"

Greenville -- ( Thu., Dec. 11, 2014 ) By Richard Parsons

Musicae personae: Elizabeth Field, violin, Allison Edberg Nyquist; viola/violin, & Stephanie Vial, cello

In a few words before beginning to play, violinist Elizabeth Field explained that, contrary to what might have otherwise been expected, the program would begin with Mozart's Divertimento (K.563); "We wanted to do the heavy lifting first." I could not agree more with her statement, "This is music for connoisseurs." And at the same time, this six-movement (or per Mozart – pezzi – pieces) is, under the bows of this trio, lucidly simple. Then there would be another piece of Mozart's incredible complexity expressed in the simplest terms, and one shakes one's inner head and says, "How did he do that?" The answer, of course, is another question:"How did they, the trio and Mozart, pull that off yet again?" From my seat I could read Field's score without my glasses (the Music House is as intimate as a double bed), and the brilliance of Mozart's writing and the facility of the trio's playing was almost more than I could keep up with. I would have been happy to listen to this composition through two or three more times at the one sitting, to catch the nuances.

The opening allegro begins with a unison passage worthy of Mozart's Musical Joke – jerking, scratching, rough; all of a sudden the three voices divide in sublime harmony, in this case precisely in tune. These three players, extremely historically informed, were playing gut-strung instruments set up in the style of the period. With only the slightest of tuning between movements, they maintained the highest level of perfect intonation.

The second movement, Adagio, prominently featured the sonorous viola playing of Allison Edberg Nyquist; her instrument, of normal length, is noticeably broad and produces in her hands a correspondingly broad sound.

In the Menuetto: Allegretto-Trio, the trio brought a deliberate attention to phrasing that was as beautiful as it was subtle.

The succeeding movements were similarly fine: vigorous, sprightly, subtle, precise! This piece by itself would have been enough for a concert. The only thing I can imagine better would have been a repeat of the whole piece. I am confident that had this been the concluding piece of the evening, it would have elicited a standing ovation, with whistles and foot-stomping!

Following an inspiring intermission at the dining room wine bar, Nyquist changed to violin for the rest of the evening. In Boccherini's Trio Per Due Violini et Basso (Op. 2/4; in D, 1760) the cello is allotted a part in a very high register, showing off the skill, in this case, of Stephanie Vial (in another case the movement could just as likely shown off the inadequacies of a lesser player). It was clear in this trio that basso was a purely relative concept to Boccherini.

Next followed the Adagio and Allegro from Joseph Haydn's Divertimento in B minor (Hob.V:3; 1750-66); the listed third movement, Tempo di Menuet, was omitted in favor of playing an additional movement from the succeeding piece. While Haydn never wrote a dud note in my opinion, it took some serious work by the trio to make this piece sparkle.

The Trio Concertant Pour Deux Violons et Basse (Op.18/4; D, c.1773-95) was programmed as only the first movement, Allegro moderato; the diminishment of the previous piece was made up by adding the Rondo allegretto here. Again, brilliant and tender playing by the trio.

For an amusing seasonal finale, the trio returned to Haydn and his arrangement of the Welsh folk song "Nos Galen," with six verses of words "written for this work by Mrs. [Anne] Grant [presumably of Laggan, Scotland]." Audience participation was called for, with singing led by Nyquist. When you know the chorus is "Fa la la la la la la la la," you can easily identify the tune familiarly sung to "Deck the hall…." This charming and humanizing touch was a delicate easing of the audience back into a not always so well tuned world.

Lotsa fun!

 

 

Thinking Outside the Bachs

The Vivaldi Project Presents "C.P.E. Bach and His Dramatic Predecessors

Harrison Russin, The Classical Voice of North Carolina, 2/6/14

 

At the University of North Carolina's Hill Hall on Thursday, February 6, 2014, the Vivaldi Project gave a thrilling reading of six 17th- and 18th-century works in a concert entitled "C.P.E. Bach and His Dramatic Predecessors" as part of the Mallarmé Chamber PlayersHIP Festival. With guest conductor John Hsu, the small orchestra of twelve musicians gave a convincing argument for the sinfonia and concerto grosso in baroque and early classical music without the "elephant in the room" – J.S. Bach. (I note, however, that Bach's stature as we regard him today is more a result of the 19th-century Bach revival than a continuous stream of Bach adulation dating from his own lifetime.)

Hsu, who taught and conducted at Cornell University for fifty years before retiring to the Research Triangle area, ably conducted a fine group of musicians. Violinist and ensemble co-founder Elizabeth Field said in her pre-concert introduction that this music was never intended to be for anything other than a live event, and Hsu certainly brought this event to life. Simon Rattle noted that conductors only begin to attain musical competence around age 60; if that's true, we can surely delight in Hsu's competence and musical maturity.

From the very opening of the Corelli Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op.6, No. 8, the orchestra animated their gut strings and engaged and communicated with each other, anticipating the sundry tempo shifts with eye contact. In music that changes speed and mood more frequently than a Meat Loaf song, such communication is vital, and these musicians did so brilliantly. There were many fine musical moments at this concert; suspensions never sound as tangible as when they are played with baroque bows, and the slight ritardando before each final cadence was perfectly placed.

Especially noteworthy was the Pastorale finale of the Corelli Concerto Grosso; the pregnant pauses that ended the piece were ideal, bringing the perfect closure to his music. Hsu also brought a level of dynamic control to music in which loud and soft are often confusingly blurred. The first half of the program was also colored by a Handel Concerto Grosso in E minor, which features a delightful Polonaise dance for its third movement. Hsu, who conducted most of the concert seated, gave a dancing feel to each phrase of the music. His conducting frequently followed the phrase structure rather than a strict bar-by-bar meter; his cello and viol background becomes clear when he throws his arms to the ground to highlight a particularly drawn note.

Stephanie Vial showcased her baroque cello technique in the Vivaldi Concerto for Violoncello in G Major, RV 413. Her delicate solo passages and careful dynamic use brought out the baroque contrasts of Vivaldi's music, and her musical oppositions of the brisk sixteenth-note runs and the slower quarter-note figures would help to convince any Vivaldi naysayer of that composer's genius.

The highlight of the concert was its closing: two sinfonia by Bach's eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. W.F. Bach's Sinfonia in F Major, F. 67, featured some odd plays between meter and modality in its opening, and the orchestra was clearly having fun. This music, written between 1735 and 1740, presented some interesting oddities, at least to ears shaped by modern classical musical vocabulary; one example was the continuously accented leading tone that appeared in the second movement. C.P.E. Bach's Sinfonia in B Minor is part of a set of commissions from Baron Gottfried van Swieten in the 1770s, composed without any restrictions from the Baron; this freedom comes through in the music, which, though written in the traditional Berlin string symphony style, has some wonderful surprises. The push and pull of the dynamics, along with the staggered entries in strange sequences, sounded bright and lively.

This concert had wonderful, weird music; some, like the Concerti Grossi, played into our normal baroque expectations. But pushing the line toward W.F. and C.P.E. Bach highlights the oddities of mid-18th-century music, and how different our musical expectations have become through centuries of being inundated with sonata form and Viennese harmony. This is music from an era whensinfonia did not mean "symphony," with its Mahlerian overtones, and sonata could indicate any of three different practices (church, chamber, or theatrical sonatas). The Vivaldi Project and the HIP Festival have helped to reinsert our sense of wonder and surprise at music that will never sound old.

 

 

An Evening of Concertos by Antonio Vivaldi

Barry Salwen, The Classical Voice of North Carolina, 12/2/12

 

Chamber Music Wilmington continued its season at St. Paul’s church, with a concert devoted entirely to music of Antonio Vivaldi. It was an evening of high-quality music making by The Vivaldi Project, whose members are much in demand in the early-music world and in fact perform a good deal of music besides Vivaldi.

The string instruments used strings made of gut, as in Vivaldi’s time – as opposed to the steel strings now standard. This gives a different tone and character to the sound. The continuo section had a strong presence, being as much as half or more of the ensemble, which varied between a total of seven and eight. The stage picture, and the sound, were enhanced by the presence of an instrument probably unfamiliar to many modern audiences: the theorbo. This is a long-necked bass lute from the Renaissance whose strings stretch well beyond the working length of the player’s arm. It added a deep and wonderfully lush resonance to the continuo.

The program began with the Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in D minor, Op. 3/11, RV 565. This piece set the tone for the program. The playing had a rhythmic dynamism and lovingly shaped phrasing. Each player performed with apparent passion. What stood out in the phrasing was the beautiful tapering of the lines and at times the nuances of swelling within phrases. Soft sections had a particularly clear, attractive sound. The spiccato sections offered attractive timbral contrast.

The following Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 8/7, RV 242, featured energetically phrased solos by Elizabeth Fullard. It illustrates Vivaldi’s remarkably prolific output, being the seventh full concerto in an opus which also includes the famous Four Seasons. It is subtitled Il piacere, and as the name suggests, offered the soloist improvisatory-style sections along with the notated virtuosity.

The third work, Concerto Ripieno in A Major, RV 158, was a concerto without soloists, a type extensively cultivated by Vivaldi. This attractive piece had an especially mellow, reflective second movement.

A standout piece followed. This was the Concerto for Viola D’amore in D minor, RV 394. Allison Edberg played the solo on the viola d’amore with sensitivity and beauty of tone, more than compensating for the somewhat restricted dynamic range of the instrument. Her sound in the largo was lustrous. An especially attractive feature of the piece was the passages in which the soloist was accompanied by a single instrument winding around it with its own independent line. Her cadenza, rather than brilliance, brought a meditative quality.

The following Concerto for Violoncello in G major, RV 413, featured the excellent Stephanie Vial as cello soloist. There was a good deal of virtuosic, energized writing here, and Ms. Vial played it with flair. A nice feature of the first movement was the shifting rhythmic patterns, something often lacking in Vivaldi. This movement also had passages with the soloist accompanied by a single violin, which was a lovely sound. The soloist’s soft phrases were projected beautifully. This was the case in the second movement as well, which had the cello playing with just the continuo, and gave the soloist a showcase for expressive phrasing. The upbeat third movement, like the second, had unisons at the start, here lively as opposed to thoughtful.

The Concerto in C minor for Strings and continuo, RV 118, another ripieno concerto, closed the program with plenty of dynamic rhythms and sequences, as well as a nearly virtuoso passage for the continuo in the last movement.

Every member of this fine chamber-sized ensemble seemed to play with passion. Performing on original instruments contributes substantial beauties and the players are clearly masters of this challenging art. It might be added that the informative and relatively extensive program notes were, like the playing itself, in a passionate style which effectively advocated for the variety and excitement of the music. If the listener did not come away with the sense of uniqueness in each piece which the written descriptions intended to impart, the energy and expression of the performances brought forth a great deal. The audience in the nearly-filled church, attentive throughout, responded with heartfelt appreciation.

 

The Vivaldi Project

Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post, 6/11/12

 

For the past six years or so, The Vivaldi Project has been on a mission: to explore not only the music of the early baroque period, but also the astonishingly rich musical language, with its own precise grammar of expression, that underlies that music. The intriguing idea has made the ensemble’s concerts, as it showed Sunday at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, into events that forge intriguing ties among composers of the time.

For Sunday night’s concert (part of the Washington Early Music Festival, which runs through the end of the month), the ensemble looked at what lead violinist Elizabeth Field called the “tug of war” between Italian and French composers of the baroque. The French tended to be more restrained, with an emphasis on harmony rather than melody, and the Italians were more emotional and freewheeling.To drive the point home, the group contrasted a quintessentially French work, the Suite from “Thesee” (1675) by Jean-Baptiste Lully, with Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in G Op. 3 No. 6. Lully’s music can be hard for modern ears to warm up to; although beautifully made, it’s formal to the point of chilliness. There’s often a mincing, precious quality that’s not to every taste. The Corelli, by contrast, was a vibrant and much earthier piece featuring superb playing by Field with the gifted violinist Allison Edberg, ensemble co-founder Stephanie Vial on cello, Joseph Gascho at the harpsichord and William Simms on theorbo.

No sooner had the Corelli ended, a heart-stopping crack rang out: The neck of Simms’s theorbo (a sort of lute with an extended neck and as many as 20 strings) had snapped. Simms was sidelined, but the group soldiered on with an early Vivaldi sonata and a fascinating trio sonata by Francois Couperin called “L’apothese de Corelli” — a French interpretation of the Italian style.

There were other gems on the program, including a richly textured sonata for four violins by Giovanni Legrenzi, and a fiery little concerto by Vivaldi. But perhaps the most unusual work was the Sonata in C Minor, “Sanguineus und Melancholicus” by C.P.E. Bach, a musical debate between an optimist and a pessimist. Field and Edberg acted out the opposing roles with great charm, and the conversation ended with harmony, hugs and a consensus that the glass is, in fact, half-full. 

Link to Review

 

Amid baroque art, Vivaldi Project transports listener to Venice in its glory
Cecilia H. Porter, The Washington Post 2/22/11

Sunday's stunning concert at the National Gallery of Art was all about Venice ­ and for good reason. The Vivaldi Project ensemble saluted the new exhibition in the East Building, "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals," with music centered on a city that blossomed in the Renaissance and baroque periods as a commercial crossroads that lavished its wealth on arts of all kinds.

Covering music of the 17th and 18th centuries, the program Sunday featured works shimmering with the colorful luminescence that Canaletto lent his brilliant panoramas of Venice. With groups such as the Vivaldi Project, the tide is turning from approaching early music in a careful, overly literal reading of the notes to electrifying improvisation beyond the fanciful melodies already embedded in the scores. The group advances early­ music performance practice by its finely drawn characterizations of each piece. The musicians moved from the plaintive laments and playful fugues of a sinfonia by Alessandro Stradella to a Handel trio sonata and one of Vivaldi's Suonate da Camera a Tre, Op. 1, combining violinists Elizabeth Field and Allison Guest Edberg and cellist Stephanie Vial with continuo support by Joseph Gascho on the harpsichord and William Simms on the theorbo, an antique form of lute.

Pieces by Giovanni Legrenzi were marked by vigorous allegros and mellow adagios, and the musicians reveled in the dance rhythms of a sonata da camera by Antonio Caldara. Gascho raced through his witty parody of Handel's and Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard styles. The final Vivaldi ended the concert in a storm of electrifying improvisation impelled by a throbbing metrical pulse. Read Full Review

The Vivaldi Project Presented the Vivid Virtuosity of C.P.E. Bach String Writing
William Thomas Walker, The Classical Voice of North Carolina 9/15/10

The Vivaldi Project, a first­rate period instrument ensemble dedicated to presenting 17th and 18th-­century string repertoire, opened its tour of Piedmont NC in Brendle Recital Hall on the lovely campus of Wake Forest University. The ensemble on this occasion consisted of three violinists each in the first and second violins, two violists, two cellists, a double bass, and harpsichord. The conductor was John Hsu . . .

Director Elizabeth Fields, the concertmistress, and assistant director and first cellist Stephanie Vial spoke from the stage giving brief, germane comments about the ensemble and the compositions. They explained why The Vivaldi Project was devoting an entire program to C. P. E. Bach's Sinfonias. Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the Austrian ambassador to the Prussian Court, commissioned these works and told the composer he need make no allowances for the skills of the orchestra. Bach took as his inspiration the string technical skills of the soloist parts of Vivaldi's works and applied them to every player! . . .

 

The string playing of The Vivaldi Project musicians was simply breathtaking! Most impressive was their precise articulation at the fastest speeds, along with such technical challenges as "rapid scales, arpeggios, and multiple stops." Each string section played exactly together as one
player no matter how abrupt the change in dynamics or tempo. This group cannot be booked to return to our concert venues too soon. Read Full Review


Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun 6/3/08

On Sunday evening, a sizable crowd welcomed the Vivaldi Project, a D.C.­based, period instrument ensemble, to the Baltimore Basilica for a concert presented by An die Musik and the Basilica's Historic Trust. The tight ensemble delivered a program of baroque fare rich in solo opportunities for founding concertmaster Elizabeth Field, a poised and stylish player. The reverberant acoustics in the exquisitely renovated church obscured many a detail of the refined counterpoint flowing through concertos by Vivaldi, Corelli and Scarlatti. But the mushy sound could not defeat the buoyant spirit, expressive warmth and technical fluency of the playing.

Read what past EMMI Participants had to say

“Thank you both for an amazing week at EMMI. You've opened up a whole world of musical inquiry that I hadn't known before. I feel like a teenager discovering and falling in love with music again. I admire your first-rate musicianship and probing intellect. Thank you for organizing the EMMI and for taking the time to decode the aesthetics of early music. How you've taught me to become a better musician! Thankyou again for being such an inspiration.”

Grace Anderson, 2013

“What a marvelous week it was! I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I feel re-born as a musician and fiddler. You have given me immeasurable gifts, dear friends, and I thank you , thank you, thank you.”

Sarah Johnson, 2013

“Stephanie and Liz demonstrated boundless energy, academic expertise and masterful performance. In witnessing their co-teaching and dialogue, I experienced an insight into 18th-century mind reading and the ultimate musical decision-making needed to create exciting performance. The choice of teaching repertoire and programming was stellar.”

Peggy Stenbourg, 2013

"In the small space of four days, I have been challenged and stimulated in all of the best possible ways. From the seeds that have been planted here, I will grow a new style of playing Baroque music which will be more creative and expressive. I feel I have been given a set of tools with which to build a much bigger house to live in, but I also feel as though I have already outgrown my current home! I am a better player than I was a week ago, despite being a seasoned chamber musician, soloist, and college professor. As an added perk, I also gained a lot of new ideas for teaching my college students. Liz and Stephanie are not just artists, they are communicators---both musical and verbal---and that is a rare and wonderful combination. I highly recommend this class for teachers, even those with years of performing experience, who want to get beyond the cliches, and to grow artistically." 

Marie-Aline Cadieux, 2012

"10 on a scale of 1-10. I enjoyed the rehearsals the most. I loved being able to discuss and play. Trio sonata session was great! I could have even gone another day! Thank you for a fabulous week. I am excited to be in this environment---great to have a hands on experience (vs. lecture). And Stepahnie, Liz, and Anne have been so generous with their time, and their enthusiasm---has been an inspiration!"

David Murray, 2012

"[Liz and Stephanie] addressed [18th-century performance practice on modern instruments] very well. And it is an important issue. I would love to see courses from this POV in Universities throughout the country. There are many people like myself, who could be very interested as long as they don't have to change instruments. EMMI was truly mind-opening and enriching in a major way. Liz and Stephanie not only have mastery of the subject matter, but they have the ability to articulate and communicate with empathy and sensitivity. I look forward to continuing this musical exploration and also to continued dialogue and friendship. I highly recommend this course for those who are curious about the way they have been taught to play in the Baroque style.

Participant, 2012

“I have wanted to attend a Baroque Performance Institute for at least 15 years. My hopes and expectations were exceeded at EMMI. Liz and Stephanie are not only knowledgeable and creative teachers and performers; their enthusiasm for the subject fosters an expressive, joyful, and resonant approach to performance. I am encouraged to continue exploring the baroque performance tradition in my modern instrument until I acquire a period copy, and to incorporate the concepts into my modern performing and teaching.”

Idalynn Besser, 2011

“Fundamentally, EMMI was revelatory. The concept of gesture, musical works, and the techniques that go with them (multiple notes within a big note, folded bowing . . .) were all terribly exciting. That coupled with the boundless enthusiasm and depth of knowledge and encouragement that Vial and Field bring to the subject—it was inspiring, and mostly appetite-whetting.”

Karen Turbeek, 2011

“I loved the institute. It made my playing more full, in expression as well as technique."

Alexandra Mikhlin, 2011

2010 Institute Participants

“Each planned activity had meaning, purpose and expert teaching. Liz and Steph work so well together. They are beautiful players and their love and commitment to their work is inspiring. And after all the work, it is joyful.”

“Every aspect of this program informed what was coming up next. . . . I loved the freedom engendered by attending to articulation nuances, with an intelligent and open approach to phrasing as speaking/singing. Liz and Stephanie are wonderful, inspired musicians who are that rare balance of true scholars, natural performers, patient and perceptive teachers who build on the strengths, rather than dwell on the weaknesses of the participants.”

“The accessibility to Liz and Stephanie was great. Their expertise is commendable and a gift to receive. EMMI not only teaches Baroque playing, but also empowers the musician to build a Baroque instinct and then trust it. The course inadvertently teaches ownership and trusting one's musical instinct. The teamwork between Liz and Stephanie is refreshing as they compliment each other so well. There is an openness on both sides.”

2009 Institute Participants: In answer to the question, What did you most enjoy?

"the stimulation of my musical creativity through broad concepts (instead of too much instruction on how to play a trill) that I can take with me . . . Great First EMMI- I loved the non-threatening environment." 

Pablo Saelzer

"I enjoyed everything, especially hearing Liz and Stephanie demonstrate, and their being able to verbalize how to begin to achieve the desired affects. They are very enthusiastic and fine teachers as well as players."

Evelyn Luise

"the opportunity to both play next to Liz and Stephanie as well as discuss the theory of it all . . . The knowledge and scholarship provided (in an extremely congenial atmosphere) in verbal, aural and physical format, allowed participants to really embrace this wonderful style of playing."

Juliana Chitwood

_______________________________________________ 

"I am deeply impressed with the way that Ms. Field and Ms. Vial introduce the basic rules of performance practice to modern string players. They get immediate results from the students of our newly founded Curtis Collegium, giving them a foundation with which to explore rhetorical music from a completely different perspective." 

Matthew Glandorf, Music Studies Faculty, Curtis Institute of Music

"Stephanie Vial is an articulate teacher of 18th-century performance practices, whose cello playing truly expresses her intellectual and artistic process. The session that she and Elizabeth Field did with the UNC Baroque Ensemble during the Spring of 2011 offered a fresh way of looking at seemingly familiar repertoire. The students and I were both energized by the ideas and the Vivaldi performance later that term was better because of it."

Brent Wissick, Zachary Taylor Smith Distinguished Professor of Music, UNC-Chapel Hill

"Violinist Elizabeth Field and cellist Stephanie Vial, both expert performers and knowledgeable musical scholars, have successfully established an admirable teaching program for professional and advanced modern string players in the study of performance practice of eighteenth-century music. Having identified those inherent musical and technical aspects of string instrument playing that are transferable from period instruments to their contemporary counterparts, these two artists/teachers inspire players of modern strings to find musical satisfaction in realizing their performance of eighteenth-century music according to the musical precepts of the time."

John Hsu, Old Dominion Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Cornell University

"The Vivaldi Project's artistic and educational endeavors are an invaluable resource to performers and educators of all levels and backgrounds. The students and faculty at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music highly enjoyed and learned from the Vivaldi Project's incredibly informative and interactive lecture recital on historically informed performance of music from the classical period. I am certain that this lecture had a transformative effect, and as an educator, I hope that they continue this one of a kind and necessary educational mission. We would be honored to host them again and to learn more from their expertise in the field."

Maria Jose Ramero, Faculty, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

 
 
 
 
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CONTACT THE VIVALDI PROJECT

The Vivaldi  Project

6402 Recreation Lane

Falls Church, VA 22041

The Vivaldi Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization