Classical WETA and sister station VivaLaVoce.org join forces for our CD Picks this week with a focus on Venice, Italy. Or, as it was known in Vivaldi’s time, Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, or La Serenissima for short. Baroque songs from the Republic with countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic are featured this week on VivaLaVoce.org, and, on Classical WETA, mandolinist Avi Avital “re-imagines the sounds of Venice in this vivid homage to the most beloved composer of the Italian Baroque,” Antonio Vivaldi.
We last heard from Avital on his Bach album a couple of years ago. His amazing technique gave the mandolin a whole new life in classical music performance. Now he’s back with Vivaldi, joined by the Venice Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi concertos that, except for one, were written for solo instruments other than mandolin.
If you listen to Classical WETA on a regular basis, you will likely be familiar with most, if not all of these Vivaldi tunes. But you will be drawn into a new experience with these performances. Yes, even in the inevitable concerto from The Four Seasons. (It’s the Summer concerto.) Avital is known for his genre-stretching musicality; one might think of him as a musical descendant of Duke Ellington: “If it sounds good, and it feels good, it IS good.”
“Avital is dogmatic only in the spirit of tireless experimentation – daring, risking and teasing startling new sounds out of these familiar pieces,” we read in the program notes. He is respectful of the composer while also bringing his personal passion and creativity to the music. “Tempos are not defined in strict intervals, but remain as dynamic as volume…Intonation is precise, but tones are occasionally 'bent,' as a jazz musician might, to add exotic spice to moments of emotional extreme.”
To complete this musical journey to Venice, Avital is joined by tenor Juan Diego Flórez for a traditional Venetian song, La biondina in gondoleta, in which Avital plays the small “mandolino lombardo” and Flórez sings in a Venetian dialect that is thought to have been Vivaldi’s own mother tongue. You can almost feel the gentle rocking of the gondola and the lapping of the waves on the sides.