For a long time, all of Italy brought up the rear among nations in the area of early music and historical performance practice with original instruments. All of Italy? No! A city in the north, populated by steadfast young musicians, demonstrated unrelenting resistance against foreign competition. We are referring, of course, to the early music ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico, which was founded in Milan in 1985: “Initially we were a little trio; the others only joined us later. We performed in the context of an early music series” reminisces Giovanni Antonini, the director and co-founder of Il Giardino Armonico.
Today this early music ensemble is one of the most successful in all of Europe. Through their work on the compositions of Antonio Vivaldi the Milanese group has shown that one can still achieve innovative and exciting interpretations of even the most well-known pieces, such as the Four Seasons, the cello concertos and the many other solo concertos of the “red priest.” As a virtuoso violinist, Antonio Vivaldi himself must have been an absolutely terrifying figure, as several contemporaries testify. A young aristocrat from Frankfurt later described one of the Venetian composer’s performances with the words: “Toward the end [of the piece] Vivaldi played an accompaniment on solo violin — admirably — and followed it with a fantasy that utterly alarmed me, for it is impossible that the like has ever been played in such a fashion before.” Passionate and breathtakingly virtuosic is exactly how Il Giardino Armonico views baroque music: “Early music requires an immense amount of emotion. The main thing is that the musician really lives the music that he or she plays” says Luca Pianca, lutenist and co-founder of Il Giardino Armonico.
For almost 12 years, Il Giardino Armonico has had an exclusive contract with Warner. And they have naturally not restricted themselves to the works of Antonio Vivaldi. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, John Locke’s Tempest and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Battalia (a kind of musical painting of a battle), as well as various cantatas of George Frederic Handel (in cooperation with the soprano, Eva Mei) have been recorded by the group. In 1991 for the Christmas season, Il Giardino Armonico recorded a variety of baroque concertos, including Giuseppe Torelli’s impressive Concerto “per il Santissimo Natale”.
As Il Giardino Armonico has demonstrated in many concerts and opera productions, the ensemble has always been interested in unknown or infrequently performed works. In 1998, they made their debut at the Salzburg Festspiele with Francesco Bartolomeo Conti’s Il martirio di San Lorenzo — the first performance of this work in recent times. In the new millennium, with the CD Viaggio Musicale, the members of Il Giardino Armonico have launched themselves on a musical exploration of their north Italian homeland and have recorded little-known early baroque gems such as Marco Uccelini’s Aria sopra „la Bergamasca” or the virtuosic Ciaccona by Tarquinio Merula. This recording has since been distinguished with the French Choc du Monde de la Musique prize.
In 2001, with their CD Musica barocca, the Milanese group presented an anthology of famous baroque works. In addition to the D-minor Oboe Concerto of Alessandro Marcello, a lute improvisation on “Greensleeves”, and Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, the diverse selection on this CD includes Johann Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue. Those who expect lush orchestral sounds and dragging tempos are completely in error; Il Giardino Armonico is always good for a surprise.
Translation: Sharon Krebs