DiBello, MOB bring striking freshness to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”

Tue Nov 06, 2018 at 10:58 am

By Tim Sawyier

Gina DiBello was the soloist in Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with Music of the Baroque Monday night at the Harris Theater. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

 Music doesn’t get much more familiar than Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

Or so one might have thought going into Monday night’s Music of the Baroque concert at the Harris Theater. As conductor Nicholas Kraemer remarked, the massive popularity and ubiquity of Vivaldi’s famous quartet of thematic violin concertos can make it feel as though one knows these works. In actuality, it’s only a handful of isolated phrases from the 40-minute cycle that are immediately recognizable. In Monday’s performances with MOB concertmaster Gina DiBello as soloist, one was struck by the novelty and ingenuity of these “popular” compositions.

A case in point was the first movement of the E major “Spring” Concerto that opens the cycle. After the instantly familiar opening statement, solo protagonist DiBello, acting concertmaster Kevin Case, and principal second Sharon Polifrone delivered an improvisatory episode imitating the uncoordinated chirping of small birds. Hearing this, one was struck by how easy it is to forget that there is music that follows the first thirty seconds of “Spring,” much less music of such modern sensibilities.

And so it was in all of the Seasons. In the slow movement of “Spring” DiBello floated an eloquent line over a stoic viola accompaniment, and the sheer glut of material in the finale led one to consider this popular hit anew. DiBello and colleagues amply conveyed both the languor and looming dread in the opening of “Summer” as well as projecting the desiccated slow movement’s arid weirdness. DiBello was a dynamic solo presence in the pyrotechnics of the final Presto.

The initial Allegro of “Autumn” was a convincing portrayal of off-balance Bacchic revelry. In the Adagio molto, for which the violin soloist is silent, Kraemer spun a stuporous harpsichord line around a soft bed of accompanying strings, before the soloist and consort delivered the closing hunting movement with panache.

“Winter” came off as the most modern of the four concerti. In the opening movement the string’s ponticello playing created an eerie atmosphere worthy of Shostakovich’s bleaker dystopias, and DiBello’s solo playing imparted an icy chill. She spun the Largo’s aria with openness and grace, and along with the orchestra’s violins whipped off the closing Allegro’s dynamic passagework with gusto. From top to bottom DiBello was an assured soloist whose personality-plus playing was crucial to Monday’s reconsideration of these well-known works.

Also on offer Monday night was Telemann’s Wassermusik (Water Music)—the unfairly neglected sibling of Handel’s more famous suites. Kraemer pointed out that while Handel’s wrote his work to be performed on the water, Telemann’s is about the water. The latter’s variegated dance suite depicts aquatic figures from Roman mythology: Thesis, Neptune, Triton, Aeolus, Zephyr. 

Conducting as usual from the harpsichord, Kraemer led these beguiling terpsichorean depictions with ample grace and abundant charm. Special plaudits are due to oboists Anne Bach and Erica Anderson, as well as recorder players Patrick O’Malley and Lisette Kielson. Their solo and concertante contributions were abundantly characterful, often calling for demanding technical skills even by contemporary standards. Bassoonist William Buchman’s continuo playing is always a pleasure to hear grounding the MOB ensemble, and this was particularly the case in Wassermusik.

The balance of the program was devoted to Rameau’s Suite for Platée. The central “Orage” (“Thunderstorm”) movement was guttural in its impact, and the paired Menuets possessed ample courtly charm. As so often with Rameau one was struck by his liminality between the Baroque and Classical eras, and Kraemer and colleagues adeptly inhabited this stylistic ambiguity.

Music of the Baroque performs Bach’s Christmas Oratorio 7:30 p.m. November 25 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, and November 26 at the Harris Theater. baroque.org

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