In “La Follia Italiana”, on April 8th 2014 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre, Onofri and the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (with founder and musical director David Shemer at the harpsichord) took the audience on a whirlwind 150-year journey of Italian music, opening with a Canzona from Book II of Dario Castello ‘s (c.1590-c.1658) “Sonate concertate in stil moderno”. Castello was a composer and chamber musician at Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice, at the time Monteverdi was maestro di cappella there. Promising an evening of exhilarating music, Onofri led the players through the work with the adventurous nuances, extreme dynamics and skilful playing typical of stile moderno in Italy and especially of Castello’s dazzling sonatas, utilizing expressive harmonies and theatrical effects. Then, via a communicative and sensitive reading of Giovanni Gabrieli’s (1557-1612) Sonata XXI con tre violini (Onofri, Dafna Ravid, Noam Schuss), its moods constantly changing, to the well-chiseled melodic lines and strongly Venetian style of Sonata in a minor for 4 violins and basso continuo from Giovanni Legrenzi’s (1626-1690) opus 10 “La Cetra” (The Lyre) of 1673 (Onofri, Ravid, Schuss, Ruth Fazal), its rhythms fiery, its transitions delicately ornamented by Onofri.
Less virtuosic than that of contemporaries such as Vivaldi, Albinoni’s music, in the hands of unaware players, runs the risk of ending up as rather pleasant background music. Not so here. In Tomaso Albinoni’s (1671-1751) Sonata V in B flat major for strings and basso continuo opus 2 no.9 from “Sei Sinfonie a cinque” beauty of melody, articulacy and variety were the key, with Onofri’s solo playing leaning into dissonances to give a gentle tug at the heartstrings without ever being too sugary.
The program included two of Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) violin concertos – Concerto no.8 in g minor RV 332 and no 9 in D major RV 230. Dealing with their glittering virtuosic sections with alacrity, high energy and radiance, Onofri’s playing was, nevertheless, a far cry from showmanship and pyrotechnic display; he riveted our attention on Vivaldi’s text, its shaping and its poignant, delicate and expressive aspects, inspiring players and audience alike. The fine-spun sounds of the theorbo (Eliav Lavi) added timbral gleam to the ensemble sound throughout the evening.
With Baldassare Galuppi’s (1706-1785) oeuvre largely made up of opera, sacred vocal works and solo harpsichord music, his small output of instrumental music tends to be overlooked. Musicologists date Galuppi’s concertos for string ensemble at around 1740; without a solo part and flexibly scored in high, Italienate style, these concertos are among the last of their kind. Rococo in style, highly melodic yet using early imitative practice, Concerto in D major offered much dialogue and made for fine ensemble fare. The program ended with Concerto Grosso no.12 in d minor, referred to by Maestro David Shemer in his program notes as “a creation of no less than three composers”, this work being Francesco Saverio Geminiani’s (1687-1762) orchestration of Corelli’s variations on an anonymous composer’s “La Follia” (Folly) melody, based on a dance of Portuguese origin. Geminiani’s setting of Corelli’s virtuoso part (Onofri) is mostly unchanged, but he went and deftly added a second solo violin part (Schuss). Other solo roles were performed by violist Daniel Tanchelson and ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. With concertino and ripieno juxtaposed to heighten contrasts between sections, here is a concert piece of the most exciting kind. Following the noble and forthright statement of the “La Follia” melody and harmonic scheme, we were presented with over twenty variations – from caressingly lyrical, cantabile variations, bristling with charm and fine ornamentation, to intoxicatingly thrilling moments, Onofri’s liberated expression inviting the other soloists to take part in the musical delight. Orit Messer-Jacobi’s solos were infused with energy and joy.
Punctilious about good intonation, Enrico Onofri addressed each player in order to tune with him between works. Onofri’s musical language and effervescent personality epitomize the energy and joyfulness of Italian music. His involvement and that of the JBO players on stage were transmitted to the audience. There was magic in the air!