The Miami Bach Society’s Tropical Baroque Festival presented the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico in a journey through the musical world of 17th and 18th century Venice Tuesday night at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Coral Gables.
Three recorder concertos by Vivaldi showcased the versatility of flutist-director Giovanni Antonini, backed by the seven-member ensemble. A sampling of Italian Baroque byways yielded some unexpected gems and more formulaic scores.
This excellent early-music group combines superb instrumental technique with finely honed ensemble skills. Violist Stefano Barneschi’s prominent tone was warmly resonant, the lute playing of Luca Pianca delicate yet vigorous. Cellist Paolo Beschi and harpsichordist Riccardo Doni provided lively commentary on continuo.
With violinists Enrico Onofri and Marco Bianchi taking the lead, the Sonata decimaquinta by the little known Dario Castello was a real discovery. Alternately contemplative and vigorous, the score posed suggestions of the Rococo era to come.
Other works by Tarquinio Merula, G.B. Buonamente and Giovanni Legrenzi offered a glimpse of the pre-Vivaldi Italian Baroque. The beguiling instrumental textures of Legrenzi’s Sonata seconda a 4 took pride of place with an inventive coda to the final gigue.
For sheer originality and profusion of gracious melodies, the enchanting Concerto a 4 by Baldassare Galuppi offered extended solo opportunities for all the instruments. This well-traveled composer served stints writing incidental music for theater in London and as court composer to Russia’s Catherine the Great, and the Italian players reveled in his advanced harmonies and elegant ornaments.
Yet, inevitably, the music of Vivaldi outdistanced the works of other composers on display. Playing a small recorder for two concertos in D major, Antonini provided remarkable tonal sweetness and daunting speed, executing trills with élan in impeccable Baroque style. His breath control was awesome, particularly in the rapid, hornpipe-like finale of Concerto, RV 444. In the Largo of Concerto, RV 443, Antonini framed a plaintive serenade in one long wave of tone that held the audience enthralled. The echo effects between soloist and strings in the concerto’s outer movements were a delight.