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Viva Vivaldi

ARS Nova Musicians Chamber Orchestra. Third concert in four-concert series.

Sunday night in Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, 1035 Delaware Ave.

Not for nothing is the annual Viva Vivaldi concert series called a festival.

The joy of these concerts by the excellent Ars Nova Musicians can be overwhelming. Sunday at Blessed Sacrament Church, the third installment of this year's series sparkled with a celebratory spirit. Even before conductor Marylouise Nanna gave the first downbeat, the church buzzed with happiness and anticipation. Did I mention the crowd was standing room only? Not snow, nor sleet, nor football game can keep these fans away.

The music fulfilled all expectations.

One of the highlights was the appearance of soprano Sebnem Mekinulov, who sang Vivaldi's Motet RV 623, "Canta in Prato." Mekinulov was fascinating from her first note; her voice is a rich, deep soprano, with a subtle vibrato and impressive power. The motet required that she begin with a demanding, curlicued, climbing line, and she rose to the occasion with admirable grace. The concluding "Alleluia" was a tour de force that ended with a theatrical vocal leap and brought tumultuous applause. As an encore, Mekinulov repeated the movement -- a brave move, as it meant she had to repeat that ending. She pulled it off, again, beautifully, with a triumphant flourish.

Viva, Vivaldi! That was good writing. Another fine composition was the charming Concerto in G for two violins, strings and cembalo, which opened the program. The first movement had a joyous ring to it. Nanna took it at a good clip, and soloists Antoine Lefebvre and Jacqueline Galluzzo played with real vivacity.

Nanna brings out the best in Vivaldi. She emphasizes his rhythms, the robust patterns of his lines, the athleticism of his solos. In less talented hands, certain Vivaldi passages can sound flat-footed, awkward or repetitive. But Nanna approaches the music with such spirit and confidence that the result is always inspired.

Thus it was that the Concerto in B flat for violin, cello, strings and cembalo, RV 547, though the first movement begins with a rather unwieldy line, took on a surprising color and spirit. Violinist Cindy Lin and cellist David Schmude navigated the tricky lines with aplomb. The slow movement had an introspective sweetness and the last movement, built on simple motifs, was a delight.

Clarinetists John Fullam and Patti Dilutis brought an interesting change of pace with Telemann's Concerto in D minor for two clarinets, strings and cembalo. There was such sweetness in this music, from the stately opening Largo to the very Vivaldi-like Vivace that concluded the work. The ending to the finale had a special finesse.

Back to Vivaldi himself, we went for the Concerto in A for violin, RV 347, which ended the night. Soloist Dmitry Gerikh, with his warm and resolute tone, gave the music an almost Romantic flair. It's not often you hear Vivaldi performed with this fire, and it sent everyone out into the snow in high spirits.

Viva Vivaldi Festival XXIV winds up Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. concert in First Presbyterian Church on Symphony Circle.


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