Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Nymphs and the Shepherd Close Brandywine Baroque's 16-17 Season

By Christine Facciolo

BrandywineBaroque warmed a late winter night and concluded its 2016-17 season with an all-Vivaldi program.

There was no grand thought or theme unifying the concert at The Barn at Flintwoods on March 10, unless it was the sheer delight in virtuosity and the delightfully relaxed approach to the music by all concerned.

The centerpiece of the evening’s program was a performance of La ninfa e il pastore (The Nymphs and the Shepherd). This rare and beautiful gem was composed in 1715 when the thirty-something Vivaldi became music director of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a charitable institution dedicated to the care of orphaned and abandoned girls.

The work is not an opera but a related dramatic genre — the serenata. Serenatas first appeared in the mid-17th Century and were often composed to mark a festive or celebratory occasion. They usually consisted of two acts presented “in concert” by two or more soloists who did not wear costumes or act. In fact, there was no action to speak of. Rather, serenatas employed laudatory texts that featured discursive debates between allegorical figures. In this instance, the text refers to the trial and imprisonment of Jansenist propagandist Abbe Jean de Tourreil for his refusal to accept papal authority regarding the doctrine of predestination.

The Serenata a Tre: The Nymphs and the Shepherd paints a pastoral scene in which lust triumphs over reason. The lovelorn nymph Eurilla (soprano Laura Heimes) discovers that Alcindo (tenor Tony Boutte) with whom she is smitten is perfect in every respect save one: He is incapable of love. Encouraged by her friend Nice (soprano Julianne Baird) she sets out to correct this flaw. Passion gets rebuffed by false humility, love feigned becomes love in earnest and the chickens come home to roost.

Singers and players gave concertgoers ample opportunity to enjoy Vivaldi’s melodic gifts. The instrumentalists — Eileen Grycky (flute), Martin Davids and Edwin Huizinga (violins), Amy Leonard (viola), John Mark Rozendaal (cello) and Karen Flint (harpsichord) — played with enthusiasm and tonal finesse.

Laura Heimes was a pure-toned Eurilla, singing with lightness and agility while exercising consistent control and vocal precision throughout her impressive range.

Nice was a figure of wisdom as portrayed by Julianne Baird. Her soprano is lush and full-bodied, but she judiciously restrained her instrument to convey a steadfast sagacity.

Tony Boutte was delightful in the role of the hapless protagonist Alcindo who gets his comeuppance at the hands of the cunning nymphs. His tenor was secure and convincing as he negotiated the lion’s share of the virtuosity.

Both acts of the serenata were preceded by performances of flute concertos in G Major (RV 435) and D Major (RV 427). Soloist Eileen Grycky managed everything with her customary technical fluency and charm. These are hardly routine pieces and Grycky points up every turn with playing that uncovers the originality of Vivaldi’s idiom. The accompanying ensemble complemented with playing that was both spirited and superb. 

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