As it turns out, the popular composer of "The Four Seasons" wasn't so popular near the end of his life when he moved from his native Venice to Vienna. It's a thread that connects much of the music violinist Fabio Biondi and his period instrument group Europa Galante performed in a Vivaldi-centric program Friday at the Library of Congress.
It seems that Vivaldi, in 1740, harbored a dream wherein Emperor Charles VI might subsidize his operas in Vienna. But any hope was shattered when the emperor died in October, shortly after Vivaldi arrived. Without a royal safety net, Vivaldi went broke. He sold concertos for peanuts and died a pauper the following summer.
Among the concertos he sold were those for Violin in C Major (RV 189) and B-flat Major (RV 371), both given exuberant performances by Biondi and his orchestra of nine strings plus lute and harpsichord. These concertos, with their propulsive energy and opportunities for virtuosic display, were cut from similar cloth as the additional Vivaldi concertos on the program, those in D (RV 222) and A minor for two violins (RV 522), music that inspired Bach to make a transcription.
Although one could carp about the sameness of the concertos, Biondi and his band uncovered the music's drama, occasional quirks and surprising juxtapositions. The ensemble moved instantly from a whisper to voluminous warmth, deploying myriad colors. Biondi, playing the Library's 1730 Guarneri del Gesu once owned by Fritz Kreisler, soloed expressively, if not always pitch perfectly.
Along with a Vivaldi Sinfonia (RV 149) and a sparkling overture by Baldassare Galuppi, Biondi offered music by two Viennese composers from a generation later. Ignaz Holzbauer's Flute Concerto in D, with fluent, buttery soloing by Marcello Gatti, fell pleasantly on the ear but short on substance. Georg Reutter's run-of-the-mill Sinfonia in D Minor was unmemorable. These pieces are no match for music made at the time by, say, C.P.E. Bach, who blazed a new path, or of course for the wonders soon to be heard in the Vienna of Vivaldi's dreams by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
Europa Galante accepted spirited applause, further amplified after a sizzling "Four Seasons" encore sent the cheering audience to its feet.