Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

program notes: baroque conversations 2

Thursday February 6, 2014

Vivaldi Concerto grosso in D minor (arr. Sorrell) after Sonata in D minor, Op. 1, No. 12, RV 63 (“La Follia”) (“Madness”)

orchestration: strings; continuo

Vivaldi Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, RV 531

orchestration: 2 solo cellos; strings; continuo

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050

orchestration: solo violin, solo flute, solo piano; strings; continuo

Boccherini “Fandango” (arr. Sorrell) after Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, G. 448

orchestration: percussion; baroque guitar; strings; continuo

The concerto is in many ways the quintessential Baroque genre. It provided a vehicle for virtuosity, dramatic intensity and the interplay between a solo entity and the ensemble. Tonight’s program features three fine examples of the Baroque concerto, and a rousing arrangement of a Quintet. This music is some of the most vibrant, brilliant and exciting music the Baroque — and the concerto — have to offer.

Baroque composers were fond of working variations into their pieces. Variations gave composers an opportunity to show off inventiveness, innovation and skill. Sometimes the composers crafted the themes, and sometimes they used themes that already existed. One of the most famous pre-existing musical frameworks was “La Follia,” which was used as the name for two distinct musical ideas. The earlier Follia was popular in Spain the early 17th century, as it was meant to be played on the Baroque guitar. The Follia traveled to Italy, and later exported to France and eventually England. Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata Op. 1, No. 12 in 1705 uses the later Follia as the basis for a set of variations. Jeannette Sorrell, the musical director of Apollo’s Fire, also known as the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, has arranged this Trio Sonata into a full concerto grosso (a concerto with a group of soloists rather than just one) that is sure to please.

Vivaldi was a violinist himself, and the bulk of his work is written for strings. Musically speaking, Vivaldi inherited the tradition of earlier Italian composers whose music was driven by harmony and reliant on the repetition of clear musical themes. Vivaldi took this style somewhere new, though, by writing for two, three or four soloists. Before him, the concerto and trio sonata were lighter fare, but in Vivaldi’s hands, the genres transformed into demanding works, showing mastery and ingenuity. This is an especially interesting fact when we remember that Vivaldi wrote many of his pieces for the young ladies at the ospedale, or orphanage where he worked. Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos showcases the high level talent expected of Vivaldi’s players. The opening movement begins with the soloists rather than the ensemble, and right away we hear Vivaldi’s signature pulsing harmony and extravagant passagework. There are moments of drama, even pathos, as the two soloists vie for prominence against an orchestral backdrop.

If Vivaldi brought the concerto into a new age, it was Bach who perfected it. One of Bach’s most famous efforts was the set of six Brandenburg Concertos. These concertos are a monument to the genre, each featuring a different set of soloists. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 features the violin, flute and harpsichord as the concertino (the group of soloists) in this concerto grosso. Bach uses these instruments to great effect, as their solo lines weave seamlessly through the complex texture of the ensemble. The harpsichord, usually supporting from the background as part of the basso continuo, comes to the fore here, especially in the first movement’s cadenza. It’s not hard to imagine that Bach might have written this piece to show off his own virtuosity on the instrument. The emotional second movement features only the concertino in a trio, while the final scintillating movement allows for brilliant counterpoint among the orchestra and the soloists.

Luigi Boccherini was born two years after the death of Vivaldi. His musical education began in the waning years of the Baroque period, and continued as the galante style of the early Classical period was beginning. Although he received his first appointment at the age of 14, he also managed to tour and travel in his teens and early twenties. His works were quite popular in Paris, where he appeared at the Concert Spirituel, an important public concert series. In 1768 Boccherini moved to Madrid. Appointed to serve the Spanish Infante, Don Luis, as virtuoso di camera e compositor de musica, Boccherini spent the next 15 years there, happily writing string quintets and many other works for chamber orchestra. Tragedy befell Boccherini in 1785 with the death of his wife, and of his patron, Don Luis. He then worked for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia until the monarch’s death in 1797.

In the late 1790s, Boccherini received a commission to arrange some of his chamber music for Guitar Quintet (an ensemble of guitar and string quartet) for the Marquis de Benavente, a nobleman and amateur guitarist. Boccherini arranged about a dozen of these works, including the Quintet in D major, “Fandango.” It begins with a serene Pastorale, followed by a spirited second movement marked Allegro maestoso. The finale begins with a slow introduction, building up suspense for the passionate Fandango that brings the work to a close. Boccherini captured the essence of this dance — including the rhythmic tapping of the castanets — in innovative ways. Tonight we present Jeannette Sorrell’s skillful arrangement of this fiery piece for larger ensemble.

– Christine Lee Gengaro, PhD

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