April 20, 2023


Vivaldi: Serenata a tre, RV 690. Marie Lys, soprano; Sophie Rennert, mezzo-soprano; Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, tenor; Abchordis Ensemble conducted by Andrea Buccarella. Naïve. $16.99.

Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Sheep May Safely Graze; Wachet Auf—Sleepers Wake; Morten Lauridsen: Magnum Mysterium. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Jaebon Hwang, organ; Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by Grant Gershon. AVIE. $8.99.

Danny Elfman: Violin Concerto “Eleven Eleven”; Adolphus Hailstork: Piano Concerto No. 1. Sandy Cameron, violin; Stewart Goodyear, piano; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Naxos. $13.99.

     For the 70th release in the splendid and rather overwhelming Vivaldi Edition on Naïve, Andrea Buccarella directs a genuine rarity whose very form will likely be unknown to most modern listeners. Serenata in the case of Vivaldi’s Serenata a tre was a specific type of 18th-century vocal work designed for open-air performance, usually at night. Mozart’s well-known Serenata notturna, K. 239 (1776), captures some of this essence, but in the instrumental context with which the term serenata was later identified. Vivaldi’s Serenata a tre, RV 690 (1717-18) is the older, vocal form, essentially a dramatic, secular cantata for three voices. The work is a pastoral one, full of the notions of nymphs and Arcadian shepherds so popular in Vivaldi’s time. It is also a work with a specific purpose, the celebration of the wedding of a French nobleman to a Venetian commoner – an almost-scandalous (or at least unusual) event that the Frenchman wanted to celebrate in suitable musical fashion. The result is a piece in which a nymph named Eurilla (Marie Lys) falls in love with a cynical but handsome shepherd named Alcindo (Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani), and with the help of her friend Nice (Sophie Rennert) causes Alcindo to fall truly in love and then be mocked for his previous arrogance. Eurilla gets the strongest focus, with six arias plus an alternative one. Lys makes the stylized romance of La dolce auretta heartfelt, the berceuse Se all’estivo ardor cocente thoughtful, and her virtuoso arias – notably La dolce auretta – delightfully piquant. Among the five arias for Alcindo, Nel suo carcere ristretto is one of several Vivaldi arias inspired by the song of the nightingale, and Giustiniani manages to project nobility and not just arrogance in Dell’alma superba. As Nice, Rennert has just four arias, but one is a highlight of the entire work: Ad infiammar quel seno, a beautifully balanced dialogue with solo violin. The 17-member Abchordis Ensemble plays sensitively and, as a matter of course in this extended series of CDs, in thoroughly knowledgeable period style, with concertmaster Boris Begelman’s contribution to Nice’s aria especially noteworthy. Like many works in the Vivaldi Edition, Serenata a tre is virtually unknown and in some ways is a curiosity and a byway, rather than a piece likely to upend anyone’s existing interest in or knowledge of Vivaldi. But as formulaic as some elements of the work are – such as the concluding “moral” for all three singers, Si punisca, si sbrani, s’uccida – the individual arias are filled with clever touches and are uniformly of very high quality. The Vivaldi Edition, even after 70 releases, clearly has plenty of excellence of music and performance yet to come.

     For a modern rather than determinedly authentic and historically informed approach to the Baroque, a beautiful but very brief AVIE release features three world première arrangements of music by Bach, and one of a piece by Morten Lauridsen (born 1943). All are sung by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon, with instrumental material provided by violin soloist Anne Akiko Meyers. The project is obviously a heartfelt one and sounds that way throughout, although even at a reduced price, the fact that the CD runs less than 20 minutes may make it less than appealing to potential audiences. Lauridsen’s Magnum Mysterium is actually the longest work here, and in this arrangement by Gershon and the composer, it is filled with spiritual uplift and simply communicated musical beauty. The three Bach arrangements – Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Samuel Adler, the others by Len Rhodes – are similarly emotive and beautifully played. Meyers seems most concerned with extracting maximum emotional connection from the music, while the chorus and organist Jaebon Hwang focus on well-enunciated singing and underlining the clarity of the words. This produces a slight mismatch between the violin and the choral elements, but it is scarcely unpleasant: if anything, it enriches the expressiveness of these pieces to mix their clear verbal delivery with the lyrical expressiveness of Meyers’ playing. This (+++) CD is, to be sure, a specialty item: it is for listeners who know the Bach works well, know or want to know Lauridsen’s, and admire Meyers’ warm and elegant playing enough to want to hear it, however briefly, in this specific context.

     The violin is used in a strictly modern idiom in the “Eleven Eleven” concerto (whose four movements have a total of 1,111 measures of music) by Danny Elfman (born 1953). The solo instrument in this 2017 concerto is amplified and heard nearly nonstop throughout the work’s 41-plus minutes. Elfman is primarily a film composer, and the entire concerto sounds as if it could be a movie soundtrack – or, more accurately, the soundtracks for several movies, since the movements are quite varied but always sound from within a kind of cinematic universe. The second movement, marked Spietato (“ruthless”), has some of the feeling of Shostakovich, himself at times a film-music composer, while the third (Fantasma) offers fairly straightforward (although not really trite) ghostliness. There is some circularity to the concerto, with its finale eventually looking back over the prior material in a sort of “summation and contemplation” mode. Despite this, the concerto – played by Sandy Cameron, with JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, on a new Naxos recording – sprawls, and is never as gripping in its totality as are some of its individual elements. Falletta does lead the orchestra with strength and commitment, and Cameron certainly manages the technical elements of the concerto adeptly, but the work as a whole produces a feeling reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s remark (in a very different context), “There is no there there.” The more-interesting work on this (+++) CD is the first piano concerto (1992) by Adolphus Hailstork (born 1941). Hailstork elegantly mingles lyricism and intensity in the first of the work’s three movements, and balances the piano with the violins to good effect. The movement’s chords give it a kind of stop-and-start feeling that is nicely contrasted with its overall flow. The second movement, an Adagio that is the work’s longest component, has some Gershwinesque piano touches and, again, particularly effective interplay between piano and strings – which becomes significantly faster-paced as the movement progresses. The finale looks briefly back to the second movement but spends most of its time in a headlong rush featuring up-and-down-the-keyboard runs that Stewart Goodyear takes entirely in stride. In fact, Goodyear and Falletta seem especially well-attuned to each other in this concerto, the music’s emphasis passing apparently effortlessly back and forth between solo passages and orchestral ones. If Elfman’s concerto has intriguing elements that never quite coalesce, Hailstork’s has fewer individually notable portions but is, all in all, a more-unified work that comes across to better effect. Both pieces, especially when played as well as they are here by soloists and orchestra alike, are fine examples of where composers have taken the concerto medium in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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