The landmark recording project known as the Vivaldi Edition is approaching completion. Its purpose is to establish an audio archive of the complete autograph scores from the composer's personal library, a priceless resource now on permanent deposit at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, Italy. For centuries, all but a handful of the prolific master's scores (notably his dozen-plus operas) were unknown, even to baroque specialists. Thanks in great part to the Vivaldi Edition, the tide has begun to turn.
The opera Dorilla in Tempe (naïve OP 30560), just out, is the 55th volume in the series. It tells the story one of the sun god Apollo's lesser-known (and invariably unfortunate) love affairs with a mortal. Our samples included the third movement from the overture, which recycles material fans of The Four Seasons (as who is not?) will recognize from the "Spring" concerto. But just as you suppose you have your bearings, the curtain rises, and a chorus chimes in. To baroque composers, the notion of originality as we know it did not exist. None of the greats, not even Bach, blushed to borrow, whether from his own catalogue or from the works of others. Dorilla, in fact, exemplifies the curious category of the pasticcio opera, studded with hits from other works no longer in favor.
The bravura aria "Rete, lacci, e strali adopra," sung by the soprano Lucia Cirillo, is such a ringer, from the pen of the long-forgotten Geminiano Giacomelli. That was the second of our picks, followed by the third and last, Vivaldi's own "Come l'onde in mezzo al mare," as performed by the mezzo Romina Basso. The text for both items is characteristically metaphorical, the first having to do with the "nets and snares and darts" a hunter wields in vain, the second with the hopes and sorrows that toss a lover's soul "like waves in the midst of the sea." The crisp, impassioned imagination at work in these excerpts exemplifies the high standard of the Vivaldi Edition as a whole, and the music itself is a thrilling discovery. Diego Fasolis leads the crackerjack period band I Barocchisti.
On to Tones & Colors, Music & Visual Art (Concert Artists Guild CAG120), the new CD from the pianist Liza Stepanova. Though far from novel, the concept behind her far-ranging recital never fails to appeal: supposedly each track relates directly or indirectly to a painting, a piece of sculpture, or a master's style.
How Joaquín Turina's étude "Ante 'Las lanzas,' de Velázquez," from Contemplación, op. 99, does so, I could not say. The military incident it references, best known to Anglophone art lovers as The Surrender of Breda, hangs at the Prado in Madrid. As Velázquez pictures the lofty scene, the dignity of the defeated Dutch commander registers as nobly as the magnanimity of the Spanish general. The discombobulated road map of the music reflected none of the noble resolution I see in the painting, and I cannot say I was bowled over by the playing.
Velázquez, The Surrender of Breda (Las lanzas).
For the purposes of the show, this sample sufficed, but on my own time, in a spirit of open-mindedness, I checked out Stepanova's most surprising find: the German-American Lyonel Feiniger's Fugue in E-flat minor. Art historians rank Feiniger with the Expressionists—counterintuitively, it seems to me, given the cool, quasi-constructivist, quasi-Impressionist cityscapes that for many of us represent the pinnacle of his achievement. Born into a family of musicians, Lyonel went his own way. Yet he burned sufficient midnight oil in the study of counterpoint to work up this exercise in one of the knottiest of musical forms, and in E-flat minor yet (six flats!). I doubt that even he fancied it a keeper.
With a live television viewership currently estimated at 50 million in better than 90 countries, the annual New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic never monkeys with its winning formula: wall-to-wall bonbons—schmaltz, if you insist—by the city's Waltz King Johann Strauss the Younger, punctuated here and there by the lesser lights in his penumbra. Invariably one of the preeminent maestros of the day presides.
This year, for the fifth time since his first go in 1993, the honor fell to Riccardo Muti. By January 5, The New Year's Concert 2018 was already available on CD (Sony Classical 8898547702) and on video. As the first of three selections, all by Strauss the Younger, I chose "Tales of the Vienna Woods," an epic romantic fresco as lavish in its melodies as it is sumptuous in its orchestrations. Brilliant and misty by turns, the call of distant hunting horns swiftly sets the sylvan scene. But Strauss has rarer tints in reserve. As the orchestra falls silent, the zither awakens, filling the night with a bittersweet, pensive perfume. On home ground, of course, which is to say in Middle European folklore, the zither mostly deals in livelier, more extroverted sentiments; I have it from Muti that he auditioned ten guest artists before settling on the refined, uncredited sorceress who here weaves the nostalgic spell. (George Balanchine staged "Tales of the Vienna Woods" as the opening segment of his ballet extravaganza Vienna Waltzes. Though the colors have faded, the video starring the original principals, Kyra Nichols and Sean Lavery, remains a heartbreaker.)
For a chaser, there was the flashy quadrille "Ballo in Maschera," a potpourri of tunes from Verdi's opera, as yet unknown to the Viennese when Strauss whipped it up. Verdi via Strauss! What lunacy! And in the hands of the world's foremost Verdian, what a trip!
From the fireworks, we returned to reverie with "The Blue Danube," imbued here with equal measures of rapture, fantasy, discipline, and verve. What, the jaded will ask, could be cornier than Vienna's ritual New Year's waltz down memory lane? But when such artistry and grace combine, who could resist?