Tag Archives: fun classical music

Domenica con Vivaldi: Fake but Fun

Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.

Concerto No. 7 in B flat (Spurious)
RV 464
Solo Instrument: Oboe
Published as Part of: Opus Seven
Soloist: Unknown
Ensemble: I Filarmonici, dir. Alberto Martini

Another concerto inserted into Vivaldi’s Opus 7 that Vivaldi himself neither composed nor probably even heard, Vivaldi’s publisher could have chosen far worse to pad this collection. The introduction is Vivaldi-like enough, and by the time the audience realizes that things sound too sprightly to be authentic, they’re probably already hooked:

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 1.Allegro

If it lacks Vivaldi’s harmonic and technical flair or his rhythmic incisiveness, then the tumbling oboe, frisky calls and response between soloist and ensemble and violin sequences alluding to the guy on the title page remain good fun. A brief modulation to the minor key doesn’t add a pinch of gravity to the lighthearted atmosphere; neither does the scraping solo violin (perhaps another jab at a Vivaldi trademark).

The middle movement is beautiful in an abstract and completely superficial way, with lots of curves that do nothing else but sound pretty (don’t hate yourself in the morning, this is the Baroque after all):

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 2.Largo

The final movement’s sheer motor energy almost makes the listener forget Vivaldi, or all the dissonant right angles he might have added to this harmonically static, incredibly exciting conclusion. Yet starting in a minor key and finishing in a major is something even the master might have avoided:

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto In B Flat, Op. 7 No. 7, RV 464, 3.Allegro

That shaking unison figure for the oboe with orchestra is a simple but satisfying trick that must have been as much of a hoot for eighteenth century ears as it is for modern ones. This fun little concerto might have gone unnoticed were it not for the Red Priest’s historical coattails. Now it has a home in Vivaldi’s catalog, and listeners have a chance to hear it. Thank goodness for unscrupulous publishers.

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“Get to Know…” a Venetian Popera Composer

Thanks to The Boston Musical Intelligencer for running my piece on pop star of yestercentury and neglected composer Baldassare Galuppi.  I am thrilled to see the spate of Galuppi recordings over the years, and hope this article will entice more listeners to experience Galuppi’s characteristically lyrical, often witty and always beautiful music.

You can read my recap of Galuppi’s works (and his rotten tomato worthy debut) on BMInt here.  All of the music mentioned is also available on YouTube, so happy listening!

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Concert Review: No Less Than Gershwin and The Pops

Keith Lockhart Leading the Boston Pops.  Photo by Stu Rosner and Courtesy of the Boston Pops

Thursday night’s Boston Pops concert (which I was graciously invited to attend by a member of the Pops’ Public Relations staff) encompassed all the superlatives that fans have come to expect from the self-proclaimed “most beloved orchestra in the country,” terms which some critics love to spout with a knowing wink or a half bored, half defeated sigh: the Pops’ “Gershwin Spectacular” was energetic, beautiful and (perhaps most critically damning) a lot of fun.

George Gershwin’s music is an ideal springboard for the blend of music appreciation, whimsical theatrics and family-friendly fun that is the Pops.  A composer with one foot in Tin Pan Alley and the other in the formal European aesthetic, works such as Rhapsody in Blue and An American Paris, with their busy figures, jazz-inspired rhythms and spicy harmonies portray fast-paced, urban modernity without the jarring dissonances of Gershwin’s continental colleagues.  Gershwin also had a knack for musical development minus the inundating depth of those allegedly more “serious” composers.

At the same time this song-plugger from Brooklyn knew the power of a lush, catchy tune.  The well-known themes of his longer compositions, not to mention standards such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You” are inherently hummable and open to a range of interpretations.  Add a beloved institution like the Pops, with its plush sound, grand stage effects and conductor Keith Lockhart’s gift for educating an audience without condescending to them, and it’s hard to miss.

Keith Lockart and the Boston Pops on Opening Night, May 9, 2012. Photo by Stu Rosner and Courtesy of the Boston Pops

Lockhart’s conducting is suitably animated for the stage as well as the music, and he (mercifully) avoided trying to make close to a hundred players swing, opting for an effective lilt instead.  Other than orchestral cues, the Pops orchestra doesn’t seem to need to be directed so much as set on their way.  They hit all the notes with the right amount of precision and an abundance of joy.  Details like perfect intonation, airtight orchestral blend and clarity of textures are somehow beside the point.  If the lower brass were occasionally too loud, or principal clarinet Thomas Martin ignited Rhapsody in Blue with a cleanly executed, playful glissando, if the double reeds struck the perfect tone of loneliness over glazed strings during the market scene of American, while the drums rushed slightly under the muddied mix of “Fascinating Rhythm,” these were just details to plenty of beautiful melody and rhythm, which were in turn instrumental(s) to a much bigger show.

A montage of scenic routes, big sloppy kisses and other heartwarming images projected onto a large overhead screen opened the program, accompanied by a bright, brassy orchestration of Gershwin’s “Love is Sweeping the Country.”  Pianist Michael Chertock joined the Pops as featured soloist in Rhapsody in Blue, and while his expressionless rubato and choppy, mannered dynamics made the first part of the title an afterthought, he dazzled the crowd with thundering flourishes and finger-busting cascades.  Gene Kelly’s dreamy ballet setting of An American in Paris, from the 1951 MGM film, blossomed on the big screen above the Pops’ vivid (occasionally mis-synced) reading of Gershwin’s score.

George Gershwin (Right) and His Brother/Lyricist Ira, by Al Hirschfeld

After their deliciously dainty leashes ‘n young love pantomime for Promenade: Walking the Dog, the students of The Boston Conservatory Theater Division sang and danced their way through a Gershwin revue that included staples such as  “Fascinating Rhythm,” Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm” as well as lesser known songs such as “By Strauss” and “Slap That Bass,” which featured beaming principal bassist Lawrence Wolfe showing off his own slap and swing.  Classic Broadway style and young voices (as well as youthful slips in intonation and time) made for an uplifting close to the program, and a reminder why Gershwin’s music has become the backbone of the American songbook.

In some ways John Philip Sousa has become the backbone of the Pops, since none of their concerts can close without a rousing The Stars and Stripes Forever.  The theme of the current Pops’ season is “Visions of America,” so Sousa’s well-worn march has more of a connection than ever.  If the Pops are tired of rolling out Sousa’s orchestral arrangement, which they premiered in 1897, this blogger can never tell.  Recognizing joy and tradition above all else is simply what the Boston Pops do, and for that type of honesty they deserve applause.

And goodness knows so does Thomas Martin’s clarinet!  To hear his fantastic solo and the Pops’ warmth on “Rhapsody in Blue,” check out the clip here, graciously provided by the Pops.

A Boston Pops Audience (Don’t Bother Looking for This Writer’s Radio-Ready Visage). Photo by Stu Rosner and Courtesy of the Boston Pops

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