Virtuosi Italiani

Saturday, March 27,  Emmanuel Church, Boston
Sunday, March 28, First Unitarian Church, Worcester


Symphony in G Major, J-C 39          Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700/01-1775)
    Allegro ma non tanto   
    Grave — Allegro assai

All’ ombra di sospetto, RV 678                                       Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Concerto in D Major, op. 4, no. 7                      Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)
    Adagio — Andante
    Adagio — Allegro


Concerto in D Major for flute and strings                        Pietro Nardini (1722-1793)
    Allegro moderato   

In turbato mare irato, RV 627                                                                  Antonio Vivaldi

Kristen Watson, soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso
Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violins; Marcia Cassidy, viola
 Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord


Program Notes

This program presents works by Italian composers of the late Baroque and early Classical periods who were at the vanguard of musical innovation. After beginning their careers composing and performing in the Baroque genres of solo and trio sonata, concerto grosso, and cantata, they helped usher in the newer classical forms of the symphony and string quartet, and brought instrumental and vocal virtuosity to new heights.

Giovanni Battista Sammartini was a leader in the development of the symphony and composed hundreds of them throughout his long and productive career.  A prominent musical figure in Milan, he composed in a variety of  genres there, including opera, church music, chamber music, and orchestral music. Admired by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Charles Burney, he had a strong influence on a younger generation of composers that included Gluck,  J. C. Bach, Boccherini, and possibly Joseph Haydn. Sammartini’s symphonies are generally in three movements with some, such as the one included on this program, appending a minuet. This work shows Sammartini’s characteristic rhythmic drive, clarity of harmonic development, and graceful figuration.

Pietro Locatelli is principally known as a violin virtuoso and composer of twenty-four fiendishly difficult caprices for solo violin, intended as cadenzas for his op. 3 set of twelve concertos. Born in Bergamo, he studied in Rome, was influenced by Corelli, and spent most of his career in Amsterdam where he was active as a performer and composer. The Concerto in D Major is from a set of twelve orchestral works published in Amsterdam in 1735. The work is scored as a concerto grosso and is innovative for its use of four instruments in the concertino, rather than the customary three. The work has aspects of a solo violin concerto and features the first violin prominently in the final movement, which whimsically and rhapsodically alternates between driving fast sections and freer slow sections.

Pietro Nardini was also a renowned violin virtuoso. A star pupil of Tartini, he toured extensively before settling in Florence where he contributed to the musical life of that city. Unlike Locatelli, who was known for his virtuoso pyrotechnics of playing in the extreme upper register, double and triple stopping, and unusual bowing techniques, Nardini excelled in beauty of tone, fluency in fast movements, and especially in expressive adagio playing. For the latter he was praised by a contemporary for his ability to “move even the most insensitive listeners by the deep emotions expressed effortlessly and naturally.” Nardini’s style straddles the Baroque and Classical eras. The Flute Concerto in D Major was composed after 1770 and receives its New England premiere in these concerts. The scope of its first movement heralds the breadth of a Classical work while its remarkable plethora of  varied thematic material is more late Baroque in its compass. A sweet, sublime middle movement yields to a playful finale, replete with jazzy syncopations and sinewy chromaticism.

It is not known where or when Vivaldi's cantata All' ombra di sospetto was composed. Vivaldi was employed in Venice for a time at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphaned girls which provided them with extensive musical education. If indeed the cantata was written for one of these young singers, she must have been considerably advanced in order to negotiate the florid coloratura that this work demands. The text of the cantata discusses the deceptive role that beauty often plays in love relationships. Vivaldi's use of the flute, traditionally associated with sensuality, together with the rich ornamentation in both the flute and vocal parts assist in conveying this theme.

Vivaldi’s motet In turbato mare irato was composed in the 1720s and is one of many he wrote for liturgical use, although it is unknown whether it was  performed at the Ospedale or for an outside commission. Vivaldi’s solo motets are similar in structure to his secular cantatas, with da capo arias alternating with recitative, but generally ending with an “alleluia” movement. Musicologist Denis Arnold has called these motets “concertos for voice” and the present work is among the most virtuosic of the genre. In this work, Vivaldi’s writing effectively conveys the image of a ship tossed by tempestuous seas, with the buffeted soul comforted by the “divina stella” or divine star, the Virgin Mary.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf