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Concert reviews

Durante, Pergolesi, Vivaldi
Gemma Bertagnolli (Serpina) a, soprano, Antonio Abete (Uberto) b, bass; Raffaele Gangale (Vespone) c; Giovanni Antonini d, recorder; Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
concert: Utrecht, Feb 3, 2003

F Durante: Concerto for strings and bc in g; GB Pergolesi: La serva padrona abc; A Vivaldi: Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F, op. 10,1 'La tempesta di mare' (RV 98) d; Sinfonia from 'La Senna festeggiante' (RV 693)

I know a lot of recordings of the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, but I had never heard it live. So I didn't want to miss the opportunity to hear it, when it visited my home town Utrecht. And when does one have the chance to see and hear a live performance of Pergolesi's famous intermezzo buffo 'La serva padrona'? And that was the main work on Il Giardino Armonico's programme on Monday, February 3.
The concert contained music by three of the most brilliant composers of the Italian baroque. Pergolesi's La serva padrona was preceded by works by Antonio Vivaldi and Francesco Durante, which had one thing in common: their virtuoso character. The concert began with Vivaldi's Sinfonia from La Senna festeggiante. Presumably Vivaldi composed this serenate for a performance in 1726 in Venice at the occasion of the inauguration of the French envoy Jacques-Vincent Languet. Two virtuoso fast movements are alternated with a highly expressive 'larghetto'. The last work before the interval was one of the concertos from opus 10, a concerto with the title La tempesta di mare, in which Giovanni Antonini played the solo part on the recorder. People in those days loved the musical portrayal of extreme manifestations of natural phenomena, like a thunderstorm at sea, as in this work. The extremes were realised brilliantly by both soloist and ensemble. There was no shortage of expression as well, neither in this concerto nor in the Sinfonia.

In between a concerto for strings and basso continuo by Durante was performed: the Concerto in g minor from the 'Concerti per quartetto'. Durante was one of the most important representatives of the Neapolitan school, known for its virtuosity. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau Durante was the greatest harmonist of Italy. This remark - being as exaggerated as it is - was amply demonstrated in this concerto with its remarkable and unconventional harmonies. The work begins with a very unusual and expressive affettuoso which then shifts into a very virtuoso presto. The strong contrasts within this movement came across very well, and there were brilliant solo contributions from members of the ensemble, among them its leader Stefano Barneschi. In the middle movement, 'largo affettuoso', Durante returns to the the mood of the first section of the opening mocvement. It is here that one realises that the opera isn't far away.

These three works were well-chosen in order to prepare for the real 'opera': the intermezzo buffo La serva padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, perhaps the most influential of all Neapolitan composers. He was famous in his own time as violinist, but also as composer of vocal works. His Stabat mater was well known throughout Europe. But his influence as composer was even greater with his composition of La serva padrona, which he performed during the intervals of his opera seria Il prigionier superbo in 1733. The story is well known, and has its roots in the commedia dell'arte. The intermezzo was the direct result of a change in the style of opera composing. Whereas in the 17th century many operas contained serious and comical elements, there was no place for comical characters in the opera seria - these were 'transferred' to the intermezzo. The danger is that such intermezzos are becoming just side-splitters. It is the brilliance of Pergolesi that he has avoided that. His music isn't just easily accessible and going for simple amusement. Some arias are in fact quite moving, like Serpinas aria in the second part, 'A Serpina penserete'.

It is easy to vulgarise a work like this. But fortunately that didn't happen. Only a small number of stage-properties were used. These, and the acting, were certainly not 'historical', but they were quite effective and always tasteful. There are quite a number of recordings available, but with a live performance one has the bonus of the silent role of Vespino, here played with verve by the actor Raffaele Gangale. The singing and acting by Gemma Bertagnolli and Antonio Abete was very good. The arias were sung in style, and the interaction between the protagonists was excellent. They got vivid support from the ensemble, whose members were sometimes even involved in the action, in particular the harpsichordist. The poor man - while playing - was given a good shaking by Antonio Abete in his rage about the trick Serpina played on him.
The long standing ovations from the audience were fully deserved. And I am sure that even on a CD this performance would be a great success. And: is it just me, or are there others who by seeing and hearing Uberto are reminded of Basil in the comedy series 'Fawlty Towers'? And is Manuel a modern version of Vespone?

Johan van Veen ( 2003)

Concert reviews