Discovering Albinoni Reviewed by John Campbell


Norfolk Chamber Consort: Discovering Albinoni
Christ and St. Luke's, October 3, 2016
Review by M.D. Ridge

The Norfolk Chamber Consort’s first program of its 48th season focused on 18th-century Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni in a tasty variety of works with an equally tasty variety of instruments.

They began with Adagio for Strings and Organ on Two Thematic Ideas and on a Figured Bass (how’s that for a title?) by Tomaso Albinoni, arranged for organ solo by Remo Giazzotto. Its familiar themes and measured tempo, played thoughtfully by Kevin Kwan, were perfect in the sonorous embrace of the acoustics of Christ & St. Luke’s Church in Norfolk.

In that period, dramatic operas were frequently lightened up after each act by a comic intermezzo. One of the earliest surviving intermezzi was Albinoni’s setting of Pimpinone, an early 18th-century comedy about the conflict between a wily servant girl and a gullible elderly nobleman, that satirizes everyday Venetian life. Logan Kenison, who won the 2015 Lisa Relaford Coston Voice Competition, sang two humorous songs from Pimpinone, and a charmingly onomatopoetic ballad to a little brook. Kenison, a graduate of Western Branch High school, now at ODU, studying with Brian Nedvin, handled the agile melodies and texts well with admirable clarity.

George Corbett, whom Virginia Symphony audiences have known for 17 years as oboist and English hornist, was the soloist for Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto, which was written when the contemporary of Albinoni was about 30. Corbett demonstrated not only beauty of tone but great breath control in the spiral staircase of ascending and descending figures. The Adagio was low and piercing, like a lament; the work ended with the lively and charming final Allegro. In addition to Corbett’s oboe, the ever-so-satisfying ensemble, conducted by Andrey Kasparov, included violinists Gretchen Loyola and Anna Dobrzyn, violist Anastasia Migliozzi, cellist Jeffrey Phelps, double bassist Madeline Dietrich, harpsichordist Oksana Lutsyshyn and organist Kevin Kwan.

A smaller ensemble of Loyola, Dobrzyn, Lutsyshyn and Phelps played Albinoni’s Trio Sonata in B Minor. The Grave movement was grave as suggested, with small dissonances dissolving into beauty. In the Allegro, first the violins, then all, were airy and light, almost breathing together. Another measured Grave, with quick filigree, was followed by the dance-like triple rhythm of the final Allegro.

Kwan returned to the organ for the Fugue in B Minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach on a theme by Albinoni. Kwan stated its simple theme, then moved into Bach’s perpetual motion, spinning in outer space around its core.

From Albinoni’s 12 Cantatas, soprano Bianca Hall sang Amor, Sorte, Destino! Singing from memory, her tone was clear and pure, with a burnished patina, precise placement and smoothly effortless leaps. Ably supported by Lutsyshyn and Phelps, her singing was utterly entrancing: lovely spirals of sound rising up like smoke rings. It was breathtaking.

Last fall, Dr. Hall joined the music faculty at ODU as early music lecturer, and she directs the Madrigal Singers and the Collegium Musicum ensemble. The late Lee Teply must be beaming down from heaven!

Another Bach work—Concerto in D Minor, after Alessandro Marcello—featured harpsichord soloist Lutsyshyn. In the Andante e spiccato, she had absolute clarity in all the moving parts. The Adagio began with six slow eighth notes, tolling like a bell, then six more, then a chord repeated six times; Lutsyshyn established a striding rhythm with extraordinary embellishment. The fast, highly ornamented Allegro was irrepressibly cheerful. It was followed by a well-deserved roar of applause.

The ensemble, with director Kasparov, returned for the final work: Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor, with George Corbett again as soloist. The Allegro e non presto was bright and cheerful. The Adagio was livelier than one might expect, and had a nice mixture of solo and ensemble, small and large in seamless variation, with Corbett’s long, long, sustained notes against the ensemble’s beautiful figures. The final Allegro was a dizzying dance. Albinoni was the first Italian composer to use the oboe as a solo instrument; it’s not something we hear that much of—and it’s not as effortless as Corbett makes it sound.

In its November 21 concert, the Norfolk Chamber Consort will be exploring the works of Scandinavian composers Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius—not composers one hears every day—with guest soprano Emily Stauch, whom many will remember with pleasure from her earlier performances in Tidewater.

This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”

Norfolk Chamber Consort: Discovering Albinoni
Christ and St. Luke's Church, Norfolk, Virginia, October 3, 2016
Review by John Campbell

The first program of Norfolk Chamber Consort's season was an evening dedicated to the music of Tomaso Albinoni (Venice June 14, 1671 – January 17, 1751) and his influence on other composers. Albinoni's father was a wealthy paper merchant who allowed his eldest, talented son, Tomaso, to study music. He learned violin and took singing lessons. Instead of taking a job in music he remained a dilettante who delighted himself and others through his music.

The newest piece on the program was written by Remo Giazotto (1910 -1998), an Italian musicologist and critic from Milan. In 1945 he published a monograph, Tomaso Albinoni: musico de violino dilettante vento. We heard the much beloved and commonly titled Adagio in G Minor by Albinoni (arr. Giazotto). Or, as the program booklet titled it: “Adagio for Strings and Organ on Two Thematic Ideas and on a Figured Bass by Tomaso Albinoni arranged for organ solo copyrighted 1958 by Remo Giazotto.” Kevin Kwan, music director at Christ and St. Luke's, played magnificently the beautiful, melancholy melody with its quasi-improvised outbursts.

After unsuccessfully trying his hand at church music, Albinoni's penchant for contrapuntal pattern-weaving came into its own in opera and solo cantatas and ensemble music (sontatas and concertos). Baritone Logan Kenison, a senior at Old Dominion University won the 2015 Lisa Relaford Coston Voice Competition. He sang three Albinoni songs. We heard Ruscelletto limpidetto (Clear little brook). Mr. Kenison's vocal sound was smooth and confident in this charming little song. The other selections from Albinoni's opera-like comic intermezzo Pimpinone (1708) So quell che si dice (I know what they say) offered two voices: the older, lover baritone and his young, pretty maid's higher-pitched thin voice in comic wrangling. Guarda un poco in quest'occhi di foco (Look into these eyes) is the wealthy, gullible suitor's declaration of love for his guileful, youthful servant. Kenison's vocal maturity and passionate singing were rewarded by the audience's enthusiastic applause.

To illustrate Albinoni's influence on his contemporaries, the eight-piece Baroque orchestra played Alesandro Marcello's (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto (published Amsterdam c.1717) featuring oboist George Corbett with violinists Gretchen Loyola and Anna Dobrzyn. They offered glorious sound and gentle beauty. Artistic co-director Andrey Kasparov led the ensemble. Marcello's style was similar to Albinoni's oboe concerto that closed the program with graceful, lyrical outer movements and a center movement of genuine pathos. J.S. Bach liked the piece so much that he transcribed it for harpsichord which we heard later in the program.

For Albinoni's Trio Sonata, Op.1, No. 8 (1694) our two violinists were joined by two continuo instrumentalists—harpsichordist Oksana Lutsyshyn and cellist Jeffrey Phelps. The pathos of the opening, slow movement had tears in the music. Expectations of relief in the Allegro second movement were unmet. The two violin lines rubbed-against each other creating an atonal tension. The third movement, Grave, deepened the sadness of the first. It was not until the final Allegro that the pace quickened, offering a sense of joy.

Kwan returned to the organ with J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Fugue in B Minor, BWV 951 (C. 1712). Only when Norfolk Chamber Consort is in this venue with its organ can we enjoy the superb playing of Mr. Kwan, especially in music by Bach.

For Amor, Sorte, Destino! (Love, Fate, Destiny!), the Twelve Cantatas Op. 4 (1702) by Albinoni, vocalist Bianca Hall, in her debut performance with NCC, was accompanied by Lutsyshyn and Phelps. The passion of the text was gloriously personified by Ms. Hall's ardent delivery. In her high-voice cantabile singing we heard the story of the swain's ardent love for Chloris. Frustrated in love, tormented by separation, the singer pleads “Restore my beloved to me or else give me death!”

Ms. Lutsyshyn at the the harpsichord gave a stunning performance of Bach's Concerto in D Minor BWV 974, based on Marcello's oboe concerto we heard earlier. Bach thickens the lean, open textures of the first movement of the original with hand-against-hand sixteenth notes building an eight-voice chord. The Adagio has a limber solo line atop steady eighth notes. The Presto finale is a romp of sixteenth notes delivered with a fevered, intense precision. The great applause acknowledged this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The entire ensemble then performed Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in D Minor Op. 9, No. 2 (1722). Long, lyrical lines of the oboe over gentle strings evoked the loveliness of a vocal aria. Full of rich harmony with long-held oboe notes, the second Adagio unfolds slowly. The rhythms pulsed through my being. The Allegro finale with glowing solo lines chased each other gaily—first violin, then oboe—a tireless chase until all draws together at the end.

Listeners to Tidewater's finest players in such an inventive program who wish to hear the oboe music again can find it on Sony CD Baroque in Italy (SBK 46547) where the Albinoni and Marcello are paired with oboe concertos by Geminiani, Locatelli and Vivaldi.

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