I Musici di Roma exhibits lavish virtuosity in National Gallery concert

With the same agility and fire they’ve so often lavished on the music of Vivaldi and his baroque contemporaries, the 12 musicians of I Musici di Roma took on Rossini, Paganini, Rolla and a sampling of 20th-century Italian film scores for their appearance at the National Gallery on Sunday. It was the third concert in the gallery’s celebration of Italian art, film and music, and it was an evening of exuberantly lavish virtuosity.

Even with its busy scurrying and irresistibly urgent crescendos, the Rossini overture to the “Barber of Seville,” which started everything off, sounded almost sedate in light of what followed: a floridly operatic Variations on a Theme by Rossini for cello played with a lighthearted sense of competitive sport by Pietro Bosna; a viola divertimento by Paganini’s teacher, Alessandro Rolla, full of the showy stuff that his famous student glommed onto so avidly and that violist Massimo Paris made sound almost easy; and Paganini’s fiendish variations on the banal “Carnival of Venice” tune that sent violinist Antonio Anselmi jumping through hoops of spiky acrobatics.

Anselmi, who, when he plays, looks startlingly like the Eugene Delacroix portrait of Paganini that hangs in the Phillips Collection, had a big night of it with similar challenges in the film scores. He handled them with remarkable accuracy and energy.

The second half’s scores, a Concerto for Strings by Nino Rota, “Music for Strings” by Ryuichi Sakamoto and a Concerto Grosso by Luis Bacalov, seemed to stand on their own convincingly, without the films themselves. Of the three, Bacalov’s score from “Il Postino,” which morphed in and out of Bach Brandenburg lingo, was the most fun, crafted with a cleverness and sense of humor that I Musici captured perfectly.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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