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Review of OCT Ensemble: Vivaldi by Candlelight

Reviewed by Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Cambridge Autumn Festival

Soloists Lara Hall - Director and Violin, Simon Brough - Bassoon, Flutes - Luca Manghi and Ashleigh Fraser

The Cambridge Town Hall provided the ideal acoustic and candlelight setting for this concert. I would like to predicate this by saying that I attended a Vivaldi concert in Venice at the church of Santa Maria della Pietà or della Visitazione which is also known as the ‘Church of Vivaldi’. One can imagine a little trepidation here…

Opening with the Bassoon Concerto in E minor, RV 484 Vivaldi’s distinctive individuality was in full flower in the rich invention which characterized the opening tutti in the undulating fast movements. In the slow Andante he emphasised the languorous poetical and lyrical charms with the most delicate of sensibilities with velvety dark chocolate palette. Brough instilled life into every phrase of his interpretation, performing dazzling feats of athleticism apparently with the utmost of ease, while at the same time giving thought to ornamentation. The final vigorous Allegro, which was irresistible, was imbued with an unmistakeable Vivaldian élan.

In the Concerto for Two Flutes, RV 533, the two flutes were well matched, and the fast paced opening movement had an infectious energy. The lyrical central movement allowed space for the music’s simplicity to shine, with gentle phrasing which did not impose on the melodic lines. The energy returned in the closing movement, with sprightly semiquavers and clear articulation in the flutes heard against a strong and rhythmically punchy bassline.

In the Concerto for Flute and Bassoon in G Minor RV 104 “La Notte” (The Night) Vivaldi depicted the theme of ‘the night’, tinged by supernatural fears, in a series of short movements. In the guise of an overture the opening Largo is dominated by an obsessive dotted rhythm in the accompaniment and long disconcerting trills in the flute. After a sudden Presto, ghosts (fantasmi), represented musically by rising triplets appear. After a short Largo the calming Andante ensued. With a Presto interruption the ghosts reappeared and the mood of agitation once again asserts itself (string tremolos). Sleep (Il sonno) arrived and was expertly portrayed by long notes and dissonances, which reflected an agitated soul. Dawn follows and with it the awakening Allegro. A masterful performance by both soloists and orchestra.

In RV 293 “L’autumno” (Autumn), the joyous Bacchanalian revelry was beautifully captured during the harvest celebrations. The slow movement with its hushed lullaby for the drunken and sleeping merrymakers was portrayed well. In the final movement, one of Vivaldi’s most richly descriptive movements, we heard the hunting horns and barking dogs.

The shivering tremolo of the solo violin ushered in RV 297 “L’inverno” (Winter). The solos here are the most demanding of all in the Four Seasons, and both solo and ritornello effectively captured freezing temperatures and biting winds. In the slow movement Vivaldi invites us indoors to warm up. The soloist played a lyrical melody over pizzicato strings. In the final movement, the portrayal of walking on the ice was heard in the stuttering stop-and-start solo part. In the end Vivaldi’s Winter brought joy. As an encore Bach’s Air on a G String cleansed the aural palette after a wonderful degustation of Vivaldi.

The trepidation was unwarranted. Lara Hall, as soloist with her outstanding performance and as Director of the OCT Ensemble, gave an outstanding performance in this marvellous venue – Cambridge’s jewel in the crown – and ensured that this surpassed the Venetian experience. Performed to a full house, this “Vivaldi by Candlelight” should be a regular in the Cambridge Autumn Festival concert calendar.