Vivaldi, candlelight and Christmas _ these have been found to be a winning combination, even though the Vivaldi music featured on the annual Christmas Candlelight Concert is not necessarily Christmas music.
Indeed, Vivaldi seems not to have written Christmas music as such. But there is in his violin and other string concertos, and in his elegant vocal music, intimations of the golden, resplendent epoch that constituted the heyday of St. Mark's in Venice, a center of the Italian Baroque when Vivaldi lived and worked there.So it's doubly suitable that Salt Lake's annual Vivaldi concert be held in the city's own St. Mark's Cathedral, with a suggestion of the pomp and splendor that surrounded performance in Venice.
This year's concert is a delightful one, with a variety of concertos that build up to the Gloria in D Major for chorus and soprano soloists.
Like his contemporary, J.S. Bach, Vivaldi wrote to order _ in his case, for the conservatory of the school for orphan girls where he taught and conducted the students' orchestra for many years. Hence in his concertos he utilized all combinations of instruments, according to what was available at the time.
The annual Utah candlelight concert need never run out of fresh material, since Vivaldi is credited with 447 concertos _ though many of them still have not been published.
The concert opened with two concertos for strings and harpsichord, with Ricklen Nobis as the tasteful and animated soloist. Vivaldi's format is generally basic sonata form, with a fast-slow-fast alternation of movements, though his command of variation and invention seems to be unlimited _ yet another reason why Vivaldi is a happy choice for these annual concerts, since his music seems ever filled with discovery, with enough technical challenge to interest the expert, while appealing to the neophyte through its melodic grace and charm.
Soloists JoAnn Ottley and Lani Poulson perform interesting arias, presumably excerpts from some of Vivaldi's many operas. Ottley is in her customary good form, and Poulson's voice seems to grow more beautiful each time she appears here.
Her tone is big, a plum-colored velvety mezzo that nonetheless cuts through with plenty of authority. Both women display the requisite facility for the music's stylistic demands, blending and balancing each other splendidly in a technically demanding duet in the Gloria.
Violinist Joseph Silverstein occupies a central place of honor on the program, performing the Concerto in G minor for violin and strings, RV 317, a work distinguished by the beauty and serenity of its slow movement. Silverstein plays with his accustomed impeccable artistry and the special affinity that he brings to this sort of chamber music. Yet again, Silverstein enters the musical life of the community with ingratiating generosity.
The Gloria in D Major, RV 588, brings the A Cappella Choir from the University of Utah to St. Mark's, with Ed Thompson conducting. Dealing with only the Gloria section of the mass, Vivaldi set the words with little repetition, providing a rather succinct and quick-moving short work.
The well-trained choir sings beautifully, finding the right definition of this work, ranging from smooth, well-controlled legato flow to the golden masses of sound the larger statements need. Their opening "Gloria in excelsis" has robust vigor, and the lively fugue of the "Laudamus te" is cleanly and clearly delineated.
Vivaldi was especially kind to the alto in this work, and Poulson makes the most of her opportunities with a rich outpouring of the "Domine Deus" and "Quoniam tu Solus Sanctus."