Viva Vivaldi, the annual festival by the Ars Nova Musicians, began in high style Sunday with a packed concert in Blessed Sacrament Church.
Marylouise Nanna, the chamber orchestra’s intrepid music director, has expanded the palette this year to include a greater proportion of music that is non-Vivaldi and, in some cases, even non-Baroque.
This first concert had three Vivaldi concertos, a little Large by Vivaldi contemporary Francesco Maria Veracini – and an entire Mozart piano concerto, which comprised half the program.
The concerto, featuring soloist Claudia Hoca, was a treat. It’s not one of the more popular concertos, but it is a gem, full of grace and light.
Hoca is a wonderful Mozart pianist. She is not rough with the music but at the same time does not walk on eggshells. Her playing is not dry, and it is not muddy. The lines are neatly delineated and they have warmth and feeling and wit, too, when the occasion calls for it. The trills and ornaments are a pleasure. Hoca has a fine sense for the music, carrying you forward with it.
The orchestra was in good form, particularly in the second and third movements. The cadenza in the last movement had a spontaneous quality. Orchestra and pianist both managed to sound as if the music were being shaped on the spot.
I heard more than one listener commenting on the nice acoustics in Blessed Sacrament. This is more of a chapel than a church, the complete opposite of some of the cavernous churches this festival has filled. All the venues have their charms, but this intimate place was particularly well suited to this light-textured music.
The first half of the concert, all Baroque, won you over right away. I got to hear this half from a chair in the sanctuary, and it was fun to see Nanna’s face, to watch the musicians watching her, to hear the music from several yards away. The opening Concerto in C for strings and cembalo by Vivaldi flew past at a mile a minute, exuberant and extroverted. Nanna threw herself into it, her hair flying. It was such fun.
Varying the music is a good idea. You appreciate Vivaldi more when he is in shorter supply.
“It’s just amazing what that man was able to do during his lifetime,” Nanna told the audience.
As if to prove it, she introduced a double-oboe concerto, with Paul Schlossman and Christine Ford as soloists. The soloists worked in tandem, bolstering each other, creating a surprisingly strong sound. The slow movement was serene and lovely. The last movement was chattering and catchy in that trademark Vivaldi style, with rapidly ascending scales and lots of virtuosity and glee. The applause was such that we got to hear the last movement again. What a delight.
Our next soloist was the young violinist Matthew Cone, born into a respected Buffalo musical family. He was touchingly confident as he tackled the Largo by Veracini. His fearlessness, and his good sense for rhythm, will serve him well in life. And he played the long lines with real feeling. Bravo!
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra violinist Diana Sachs stepped forward then, for a D minor Vivaldi concerto. Sachs, charmingly, was playing in the orchestra, and when her turn to solo came, she simply slipped out of her jacket and stood up, dressed to solo in a stunning sleeveless gown.
She is a Viva Vivaldi mainstay, and her concertos are always joyous events – she digs into the music, rejoicing in the assertive rhythms, in the athleticism.
This was an odd concerto. In the mournful, lovely Adagio, the cembalo got to solo, and Sachs fell gracefully into the accompanist’s slot. The passionate last movement had sparks.
Viva Vivaldi continues at 6:30 p.m. Sunday with a concert in St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St.
With the Ars Nova Musicians. Sunday in Blessed Sacrament Church.