By Elliot Mandel
Garry Clarke and Baroque Band released a flurry of fiddling Wednesday night at St. James Cathedral, performing eight of the twelve concerti of Antonio Vivaldi’s L’Estro armonico, Op. 3 (1711). The Red Priest composed the concerti during his tenure teaching music to young orphan girls at Venice’s Conservatorio dell’ Ospedale della Pietà; a cathedral setting seemed appropriate to revive such a collection.
The opus as a whole demonstrates Vivaldi’s masterful ability to shift moods from movement to movement. Concerto No. 2 in D minor, for example, is full of mystery in the opening adagio, but ultimately dances in the allegro finale. Performing on period instruments, the Band played with nuance, emphasizing the movement inherent in Vivaldi’s work. Melodies rose and tumbled, lacy chords floated to the rafters, and violin duets sparkled like singing birds. A solid continuo of cello, bass, and David Schrader’s ever-present harpsichord coolly anchored the violin quartet. Though Rachel Barton Pine substituted at the last minute, the clarity and strength of Matthew Cataldi’s violin rang truer than Pine’s thicker sound. Elizabeth Hagen’s playful viola added depth and richness to the texture without weighing down the overall transparency achieved by the ensemble.
Since its inception in 2007, Baroque Band has found an audience of loyalists in Chicago. No doubt the Chicago Early Music Festival, which runs through this weekend, has increased the Band’s following; enthusiasts can look forward to the Band’s continued variety of programming. Until gondolas cruise down the Chicago River, Baroque Band is the closest thing the city has to Vivaldi’s Venice.