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Let's hear it for sequins and transcriptions--all the rage this season among Boston's early music cognoscenti.
Showing her witty fashion sense, local flautist Paula Robison modelled a sassy red sequined gown and offered the delicious post-modern program of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" she had transcribed for flute. Robison enchanted a predominantly upper-crust Back Bay audience on Sunday at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum with her effervescent and joyful presence.
Faithful to what she describes as her philosophy of "fusion-style," Ms. Robison dared to couple Vivaldi's florid 1725 orchestration with booming, modern instruments and techniques. She described many contemporary instrumentalists as drooling over and fantasizing about playing early pieces by the likes of Vivaldi, Bach and Haydn, yet often restraining themselves from such performances out of (often sanctimonious) respect for "authenticity." A musician in the most untarnished sense, Ms. Robison aims to paint the liveliest and most colorful musical experience possible with as many wideranging techniques available, seemingly saying, "Oh phooey" to purist stalwarts. In a mildly Machiavellian rebellion, Ms. Robison boldly asserts that the ends of creating the most tonally brilliant and resonant music possible are well worth the means of a little historical fibbing and instrumental miscegnation.
The results are glorious. With the first lilting phrases of the Allegro of the Spring movement, all present were filled with langorous longing for the delights of May. The high-pitched flute authentically evoked the ebullient song of the birds and the rushing whistle of a brook, despite the initial overpowering of the second violins. During the more "violinistic" spots where the warmth of the intended solo violin would have more richly depicted the sleepy scenes of shepherds napping and dogs baying, Ms. Robison courageously puffed away and made the leap of faith that her modern flute could pull it off as well. And pull it off she did.
Originally written for organ or harpsichord, the continuo of the four concertos was performed by renowned Boston keyboardist John Gibbons. Opting to play the harpsichord only for the silvery depictions of drunkenness, frantic hunts and feasting of the F major Autumn concerto, Mr. Gibbons adroitly adapted an organ set at modern pitch to the other three seasons' orchestrations. He generously restrained his playing and rightly gave center-stage glory to the spellbinding pied piper figure of Ms. Robison.
Also worthy of esteem was the Autumn Adagio Molto, with the rich initial phrasing of the baroque guitar played with bravura by Olav Chris Henriksen. With Gibbon's rhythmic, plucking continuo, the music lulled guests into imaginary dulcet slumber. During the Allegro, the orchestra, which had been struggling a bit at first with dynamics and synchronicity, finally gelled and the harpsichord rocked along, tying the ends together splendidly.
And lest you all forget, winter is coming! Mere weeks away, the cool sting of the air and the slippery snow will be the curse of our days. Vivaldi humorously depicts such antics as poor folks falling on their derrieres after sliding over the ice with the sweeping phrasing of the baroque guitar. Then, he clemently rushes us all home with a competently executed Largo, to the family values warmth of fireside, cocoa with mini marshmallows and mom. The first and second violins joined with the fat, dull twang of the bass in an extended pizzicato, successfully evoking a grandfather clock slowly prodding through a bitter time of year.
Ms. Robison deseves high praise for her sensitive and innovative arrangement and for throwing a little verve into the often staid domain of classical music.
Don't worry too much about the the bleak mid-winter reading period just around the corner--drank up the Allegro Non Molto from the Summer concerto and imagine yourselves languishing in the July heat on an Italian beach, instead of holed up in a dorm room on the banks of the Charles. Let Vivaldi work his magic.
Among the upcoming events in the Gardner Museum's Sunday Concert Series are the Complete Piano Sonatas of Beethoven, Part 1, featuring Seymour Lipkin, on Oct.20, a recital of works by Mozart, Bach, Couperin, and Haydn for harpsihord and flute on Oct. 27, and the Borromeo String Quartet performing Dvor ak and Mozart on Nov.3. All concerts begin at 1:30 pm and the $9 fee for college students includes museum admission. For more information about upcoming concerts and ticket information, call 566-1401.
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