Andrew Pincus | Rambling Around Tanglewood: At Ozawa hall, Vivaldi times five

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LENOX — As the old saw has it, Vivaldi didn't compose 500 concertos — he composed the same concerto 500 times.

The canard was put to the test Thursday night at Tanglewood when the Venice Baroque Orchestra played eight mostly Venetian concertos, five of them by Vivaldi. The judgment proved both true and untrue.

In chugging rhythms and running-in-place scales, Vivaldi was the cheerfully chugging Vivaldi. But the addition of a baroque mandolin to the mix as a solo instrument, plus the 15-member ensemble's obvious pleasure in playing music of a Venetian native son, put spice into the baroque pudding.

Jerking, bobbing and weaving happily to the beat on his chair at the front of the stage, Avi Avital enlivened four of the Vivaldi five with his smaller, softly twanging (but discreetly amplified) predecessor of the modern mandolin. His contributions culminated in a storm-tossed transcription, with matching accompaniment by the orchestra, of the violin solo in "Summer" from "The Four Seasons."

The program was titled "Venice-Naples." Indeed, the most adventurous work of the showery evening was not by Vivaldi, but by the representative of Naples, Giovanni Paisiello. In the fast-slow-fast movement form of all eight of the evening's pieces, it was, in its brief course, nevertheless more harmonically bold and broadly scaled than Vivaldi's avatars.

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That, Avital said in an enthusiastic talk from the stage, was because Neapolitans are more passionate about life than the more staid Venetians.

It almost goes without saying that the Venetian group, led from the concertmaster's position by Gianpiero Zanocco, belied the canard that Venetians are dour. The playing on period instruments, as with the best period-instrument groups, was smart, tight and alive.

A highlight was Vivaldi's lively Concerto in G for mandolin, recorder and strings, in which Anna Fusek, on a piccolo recorder, challenged and echoed Avital in virtuosity of both rushing sounds and bodily activity. At times, her tweeting (real tweeting) sounded as if a bird was loose in Ozawa Hall.                                   

Other Venetians in this show were Francesco Geminiani and Tomaso Albinoni. The former was represented by a set of rambunctious fast-slow variations on the old tune "La Folia" ("Folly") as originally set in a violin sonata by Corelli. Albinoni made the cut with a brief, inconsequential concerto for strings and continuo.                                                                                                                                                      

Now, as for Vivaldi's other 495 ...


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