There was no grand thought or theme to unify the Venice Baroque Orchestra’s program at Zankel Hall on Wednesday evening, unless it was a sheer delight in virtuosity. For 21st-century listeners the elements of the ensemble’s name point most readily to Vivaldi, who occupied the first half of the program.
“Igor Stravinsky famously quipped that Vivaldi did not write 500 concertos,” ToniMarie Marchioni wrote in the program notes, “but instead one concerto 500 times.” Perhaps, but, according to leading Vivaldi specialists, another modernist composer, Luigi Dallapiccola, said it first, using the number 600.
Whoever is to blame, the excellent Venetians, led from the harpsichord by their director, Andrea Marcon, quickly disproved that canard, if disproof were still needed. Their first concerto offering was the moody flute work “La Notte” (“Night,” RV 439), which has six movements, alternating slow and fast, the second titled “Ghosts,” the fifth “Sleep.” Michele Favaro’s performance of the flute part was notable for the remarkable evenness and beauty of its extended trills.
Two other concertos hewed to Vivaldi’s three-movement norm, but both were highly individual in their explorations of instruments of widely disparate pitch. Giulia Genini, the soloist in the Bassoon Concerto in F (RV 488), played well throughout; in the madly virtuosic finale she completely dispelled the instrument’s lumbering image. And Anna Fusek drew a wealth of color from the tiny soprano recorder in the Flautino Concerto in C (RV 443).
The orchestra began with the sinfonia from Vivaldi’s serenata “La Senna Festeggiante” (“The Seine in Festivity”).
Ms. Genini and Mr. Favaro returned to open the second half, Mr. Favaro now playing oboe alongside Shai Kribus in a G minor Overture by Francesco Maria Veracini. Then Daniele Bovo took center stage in Nicola Porpora’s Cello Concerto in G, overcoming a patch of seriously sour intonation in the opening Adagio to rise to spectacular bravura heights in the fast movements.
The orchestra closed the program with Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D minor, “Folia” (“Folly” ), arranged from a treatment of an ancient tune in a violin sonata by Corelli. Remaining traces of solo violin work were handily dispatched by the concertmaster, Luca Mares.
The band showed its depth in an encore, when a second violinist, Gianpiero Zanocco, shone in another maniacally demanding movement of Vivaldi, from a Violin Concerto in D (RV 212). A movement from a Telemann concerto ended the evening on a non-Venetian note.
After Mr. Marcon had announced the first encore the orchestra surprised him, playing instead “Happy Birthday,” in honor of his 50th.