Musica Pacifica

Fire Beneath My Fingers

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Musica Pacifica is an American chamber ensemble based in the San Francisco Bay Area and drawn from the larger Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Both groups are leaders in the attempt to transplant the vibrant and commercially successful European historical-performance movement to the U.S., and this disc, like others from Musica Pacifica, features nimble violin and recorder playing made possible by the use of authentic instruments, sharp attacks, transparent textures (the bassoon really buzzes here) and a high level of detail, and a general preference for expressiveness over symmetry. In this program of concertos from the middle eighteenth century, which live up to their billing as virtuoso works, the group follows the tendency to look at Vivaldi as an incubator of Classical styles rather than as a culmination of Baroque traditions. The results are mixed. In the opening Concerto in F major for recorder, two violins, and continuo, assembled by the performers from several different versions of the violin concerto known as La Tempesta di Mare (The Storm at Sea), they have intonation problems and come off as overly fussy. The arrangement loses the programmatic focus of the piece, and the group's habit of slightly slowing down to give a soloist room for a virtuosic flourish seems mannered. By the time of the later music on the program, a concerto movement was a more flexible thing. The Tartini Violin Concerto in A major, D. 91, works well with the same approach, and Baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock navigates heavy ornamentation with ease. The listener tends to settle into a groove with the other Vivaldi works, although one could argue that Vivaldi's bassoon lines were structured so as to make a soloist struggle a bit against a group moving at a fixed tempo. Like most innovative historical-performance discs, this one will probably inspire varying reactions. Listeners may be able to agree, however, on the sound, which brings out the efforts of each player with remarkable clarity. The recording venue is specified only as an "Ayrshire Ball Room"; it might have been helpful to know where this was located.

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