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Music review: Vivica Genaux and Europa Galante at Disney Hall

January 26, 2012 | 12:57 pm

Europa Galante 6_Cr
Squeezed in between Mahler symphony cycle dates, Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Baroque Variations series soldiered on Wednesday night with a return visit by violinist Fabio Biondi’s period-performance ensemble Europa Galante. For someone attending all these events, the rasping, delicate sounds of period instruments in Vivaldi seemed like a bracing, perhaps slightly acidic splash of cold water in between the massively scaled mood swings of Mahler.     

Nevertheless, there was another form of firepower on the Disney stage Wednesday -– the Fairbanks, Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who is the focal point of Europa Galante’s current six-city U.S. tour. 

It was a platform for Genaux to show off her rare and astounding ability to wind her way through some of Vivaldi’s hair-raising obstacle courses of notes at lightning-speed tempos (plus encores by Giacomelli and Brioschi).  All of the Vivaldi arias are featured on her appropriately-named CD, “Pyrotechnics,” with Europa Galante -– and none are what could be considered standard fare.

Vivica Genaux,Genaux’s lower chest tones still resemble those of Marilyn Horne, though the voice is smaller in that range and only blooms when she moves up the scale.  But she has consistent agility throughout her range. Nothing fazes her, and that’s part of her appeal; she is delighted with her prowess and she lets her audience -– and the players -– know it.  Nowhere was that more evident than in the last and most difficult selection on the program, “Agitata da due venti” –- which Vivaldi, fully aware that he had written a hit aria, inserted into two operas.  Genaux nailed every florid note as Europa Galante fizzed away -– and she turned to face the ensemble during their connecting passages, enjoying the ride.

On its own, the 14-player ensemble rattled through a pair of Vivaldi concertos -– RV 116 and Op. 3, No. 8 -– and two less-stimulating 18th century concertos by Nardini and Locatelli.  But clearly, Genaux’s heroics dominated the evening.


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 -– Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Europe Galante, uncredited.

Photo: Vivica Genaux. Credit: Harry Heleotis/Virgin Classics