"Vivaldi opens the program of Nightmare in Venice, in a collection that plays on the dark image most people have of that city thanks to movies like Death in Venice and Don’t Look Now, and dark shops crammed with creepy carnival masks.
(Aside: I was once in Venice at the time of the film festival, and one evening I wandered into a piazza where a movie was screening. It was Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie was not very scary, but boy I wasRead more spooked by the city itself on my way back to the hotel!)
As befits its title, this disc has proved something of a nightmare to critics by being more “over the top” than its predecessor. The “Witches’ Dance,” in a suite compiled from pieces by Robert Johnson and the aptly named Nicholas Le Strange, involves a cackle produced by closely recorded violin glissandi, played above the bridge. Tempos in Vivaldi’s “La notte” concerto creep forward tentatively at one moment then fly into a panic the next, setting the ghostly scene admirably.
There existed in the early-Baroque period a stylus phantasticus, two examples of which are in this recital: Cima’s Sonata a Tre and Castello’s Sonata Decima. The style blended disparate elements of song and dance in an unpredictable manner that contemporaries regarded as grotesque. In the same spirit of willful grotesquery, Adams and cohorts deconstruct Corelli’s Fantasia on “La Folia,” bringing in even more disparate elements like a passing reference to the Elgar Cello Concerto, and various ethnomusical or jazzy touches. This is nothing more nor less than an outrageous party piece.
For all that, the concert has its respectful moments, primarily the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso from L’estro armonico, brisk but not manic in the outer movements and pellucid in the central Larghetto. There is also a comparative straightforwardness to most of the dances in the suites from Purcell’s masque and Leclair’s tragédie lyrique. The prelude to The Faerie Queen is positively genteel, while Leclair’s first “Demon Dance” goes with a lilt to assure us that this demon was courteous enough to be welcome at the Paris Opéra. Lest the demonic element slips our mind, the third “Demon Dance” from Scylla et Glaucus is prefaced by Julia Bishop playing the opening of Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre."