For eight years now the Vivaldi Candlelight Concert in behalf of International Visitors, Utah Council, has been holding forth at various locations around town, most notably the appropriately named St. Mark's Cathedral. (After all, the composer-violinist was himself prominently associated with St. Mark's in Venice.)
So what was new Monday, at the first of two benefit concerts at that site? Well, if memory serves, fewer candles than in the past (talk about "notes in the dark"), fewer in the audience (i.e., for once the house was not full) and, just maybe, a little less Vivaldi.I say that because of the semi-spurious nature of the major work on the program, the Sacrum, which although it made it into the Ryom catalog (as R.V. 586), has had its authenticity questioned, a view with which I have to agree.
Certainly it doesn't sound much like Vivaldi, except perhaps in some of the instrumental writing, or even terribly Italian. Still, as a full setting of the Latin mass, it is imposing enough, and, like so many of the pieces attributed for so long to Pergolesi (most of which turned out to be by other people), is definitely worth a hearing.
Monday, moreover, it drew a committed performance from the University of Utah A Cappella Choir under Ed Thompson and what would ordinarily have been an estimable solo quartet.
I say that because, when it came right down to it, not everyone seemed happily cast. Best perhaps was Mary Wescott, whose steady contralto encompassed the writing with comparative ease and a clear understanding of what might be called oratorio style. However, soprano JoAnn Ottley, who possesses what still may be the most beautiful-sounding voice of its kind in these parts, did not always seem at ease in the upper reaches (e.g., the outer sections of the "Credo") or completely comfortable with the idiom.
Indeed, only her duet with tenor Michael Ballam in the "Benedictus" recalled her glory years, and happily found him on top of the writing as well. Otherwise he tended to float around the notes in a strangely produced head-tone. But at least he was in the ballpark. Because for all the nobility of his singing, baritone David Power - here billed as a bass - simply was not able to summon the low-end strength the part requires.
For his part Thompson kept the choruses moving, his singers' youthful vigor and precision serving both him and the music well. The ensembles, however, were more or less under music director Ricklen Nobis, directing from the harpsichord. Either way the brilliance of the "Gloria" came across, as did the instrumental writing in the "Sanctus," with its rumbling continuo.
Were that not enough, the evening began with three of the baroque master's multitudinous concertos, each in his characteristic fast-slow-fast layout. In fact that's sort of how they were deployed as a group, the festive F major concertos for winds and strings bracketing the F. I/239 Violin Concerto in C minor.
Soloist in the last was Soviet emigre Yuri Merzhevsky, the silken strength of whose playing shone like a beacon, even the trills being firmly placed within the main violin line. Ditto his work in the pastoral slow movement of the F. XII/40 Concerto for Two Horns, Two Trumpets and Violin, again displaying controlled warmth and expressivity.
Otherwise the spotlight here was on trumpeters Nick Norton and Patrick Kunkee, whose artful antiphony sailed above the hunting-horn writing of the first movement and some patchy ensemble in the last.
Those same horns, in the persons of William Barnewitz and Sue Hudson, lent a celebratory air to the opening piece on the program, the F. XII/46 Concerto for Two Horns and Bassoon (although, in fact, the latter's role seems confined to continuo). Certainly they sang out boldly in the outer movements, here airy and exuberant, as did Barbara Scowcroft's violin, which stood out from the rest of the string complement in almost period fashion. And in this context, that's a compliment.