Bird of Paradise
Europa Galante with Fabio Biondi and Maurice Steger at the Tonhalle in Zurich
Snow blowing across the fields, and not a bird around to mark summer’s presence. It is time to bring out the flutes and violins in order to warm the hearts. But the Sinfonia in G Major (RV 149) by Antonio Vivaldi didn’t quite do the trick. Fabio Biondi and his Baroque ensemble “Europa Galante”, who created quite a furor with their recording of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” a number of years ago, began their Klubhaus concert with reserved elegance, although somewhat lukewarm in mood. And then he suddenly he was there, “Il Gardellino”, the finch, on the middle of the stage in the Tonhalle Zurich. Brazen and carefree he began to trill and whistle, to beguile, to shout and dance for joy. It seemed almost as if Vivaldi wrote his Concerto in D Major for Flute and Strings (RV 428) specifically for Maurice Steger. Steger’s fine nuances in articulation and tone production were particularly entrancing in the slow movements. And his lavish ornamentation was so airy and light that the melodies never appeared to be exaggerated or sluggish. The Siciliana from Vivaldi’s Concerto was absolutely bewitching, and the slow movement from Giuseppe Sammartini’s Recorder Concerto in F Major became a tender song. The middle movements in general provided the greatest magic during the evening. String pizzicatos and splashes of lute and harpsichord harmonies provided a fine accompaniment to which Biondi played a graceful melody in the Largo from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto in G Minor (reconstructed from the Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor BWV 1056). And the fourth Brandenburg Concerto united all of the evening’s performers once again, who brought Bach’s dense weave of music to glow. The contrapuntal art of the concertante fugue in the closing movement was filled with playful spontaneity.