Sunday's stunning concert at the National Gallery of Art was all about Venice - and for good reason. The Vivaldi Project ensemble saluted the new exhibition in the East Building, "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals," with music centered on a city that blossomed in the Renaissance and baroque periods as a commercial crossroads that lavished its wealth on arts of all kinds.
Covering music of the 17th and 18th centuries, the program Sunday featured works shimmering with the colorful luminescence that Canaletto lent his brilliant panoramas of Venice. With groups such as the Vivaldi Project, the tide is turning from approaching early music in a careful, overly literal reading of the notes to electrifying improvisation beyond the fanciful melodies already embedded in the scores. The group advances early-music performance practice by its finely drawn characterizations of each piece.