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"Nisi Dominus"

Eva Za´cik, mezzo-sopranoa
DÚborah Cachet, sopranob; Francisco Ma˝alich, Benoţt-Joseph Meier, tenorc; Virgine Ancely, bassd
Le PoŔme Harmonique
Dir: Vincent Dumestre

rec: August 2020, Rouen, La Chapelle Corneille/Auditorium de Normandie
Alpha - 724 (ę 2021) (58'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Vivaldi
Spotify

Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Sinfonia funebre in f minor 'composta per le esequie della sua Donna che si celebrarono in Roma'; plainchant: Nisi Dominusd; Serafino RAZZI (1531-1613): O dolcezzabcd; O vergin santaab; Francisco SOTO DE LANGA (1534-1619): Gies¨ diletto sposocd; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Invicti bellate (RV 628); Nisi Dominus (RV 608); Sinfonia 'al Santo Sepolcro' in b minor (RV 169)

Fiona Poupard, violin, viola d'amore; Paul-Marie Beauny, Myriam Mahnane, Camille Aubret, Tatsuya Hatano, Yoko Kawakubo, Sophie Iwamura, Thiphaine Coquempot, Rebecca Gormezano, violin; Pierre Vallet, Delphine Millour, Maialen Loth, viola; Lucas Peres, viola da gamba, chitarrino; Cyril Poulet, Keiko Gomi, cello; Simon Guidicelli, double bass; ╔tienne Galletier, theorbo, colascione; Francisco Ma˝alich, guitar; Vincent Dumestre, guitar, colascione; Camille Delaforge, harpsichord, organ; Samuel Domergue, percussion

If one has a look at the track-list of this disc, one may wonder what it is about. The repertoire spans a period of more than a century, and the pieces included in the programme are very different in character and style. Caroline Panel, in her liner-notes, summarizes its purpose thus: "The musical journey on which this recording invites us is therefore centred on divine praise: the beauty of sacred music was held to strengthen the faith of the listeners, while the choice of the vernacular aided understanding of the text, which underlined the wonders God could work. The common feature of all the composers assembled here is that they practised their art at a time of renewal of the Catholic faith and in the specific context of devotional confraternities."

The programme includes three so-called laude. The lauda was a spiritual extra-liturgical chant, often about the Virgin Mary, sung at the gatherings of confraternities or during processions. It has its origin in the Middle Ages, but in the second half of the 16th century it was revived as an instrument to disseminate the Catholic faith among those who did not understand Latin. This cannot be isolated from the Counter-Reformation, which aimed at defending the Catholic faith against criticism from the Reformers and, if possible, recapturing the ground that had been lost to the Reformation.

However, the Church recognized that it could not be revitalized if it entirely focused on doctrinal issues. "While the valorisation of Marian figures and monastic life was obviously intended to remind contemporaries of the foundations of the Catholic faith, which had been undermined by the Reformation, the Church in the sixteenth century engaged in a profound reflection that went far beyond questions of dogma. The whole practice of charity was re-interrogated, leading to the foundation or renovation of numerous establishments, now envisaged as institutions of redemption in which the care of the body and the salvation of the soul were inseparable" (Panel). And this brings us to the second part of the programme: the motets by Vivaldi. For most of his life he was connected to the Ospedale della PietÓ, one of four orphanages in Venice, where orphans or children abandoned by their parents, received an education, in which music played a central role. Today these institutions are mainly seen as breeding grounds of musical talents, but they had their origin in this ideal of a marriage of the spiritual and the material. "An inscription still visible in the church of the PietÓ recalls that in the early sixteenth century the children of the hospital went out begging in the streets, 'accompanied by instrumentalists'. Music was therefore an integral part of everyday life in the Venetian ospedali, which gradually became conservatories, offering their residents a musical education of a very high standard."

Taking the above into account, the way the programme has been put together, makes much sense. It helps that the laude performed here, are not taken from the medieval repertoire, but were written by composers who were active around 1600. Giovanni Razzi was a theologian and a composer. His original first name was Giovanni, but he adopted the name of Serafino when he entered the Dominican monastery of S Marco in Florence as a novice. As a writer he contributed to the Counter-Reformation through tracts, sermons and biographies of Dominican saints. For his laude he made use of madrigals and carnival songs. O vergin santa opens with the words "O holy Virgin, do not forsake me, let me not perish in this sea". O dolcezza is a typical specimen of Jesulatry. After each line the words "O dolcezza Gies¨" (O sweetness of Jesus) are repeated as a kind of refrain.

Francisco Soto de Langa was of Spanish birth, who in 1562 joined the papal choir in Rome. He may have been the first castrato in the choir. He stayed in the papal choir until his retirement in 1611. In 1571 he joined Filippo de Neri's oratory. His singing of laude drew great crowds to the confraternity. He may have been the editor of five anthologies of laude. He also composed some himself, such as Gies¨ diletto sposo, which is of the same vein as the second-mentioned by Razzi; it opens with the line "Jesus, beloved spouse".

The two motets by Vivaldi are different in character and size. Invicti bellate is one of his least-known motets; it is not often performed and recorded because it has been preserved incomplete. This was probably the reason that it was omitted from Robert King's complete recording of Vivaldi's sacred music for Hyperion. This fact is not mentioned in the liner-notes. Kevin Mallon, in the fourth volume of his series of recordings of Vivaldi's sacred music for Naxos, did include it, apparently in some kind of reconstruction. Whether he and Vincent Dumestre here use the same reconstruction as Anke Herrmann and the Academia Montis Regalis (Opus 111, 2003) is impossible for me to check. It has the common form of motets for a solo voice and strings: two arias embracing a recitative, and an Alleluia to close the work. The opening aria and the ensuing recitative have a belligerent character as they are about the fight against "the tyrant", who is not mentioned, but undoubtedly refers to Satan. The second aria expresses faith in Jesus's victory.

Nisi Dominus is one of Vivaldi's most popular vocal works. It is stated in the liner-notes that it is probably written in 1716 and was "composed specifically for the PietÓ". I wonder what is the foundation of that statement, as Michael Talbot, in his liner-notes to Robert King's recording, states that it is a relatively early work but "no one has yet established whether or not it was written for the PietÓ." He continues: "It survives in Turin not as an autograph score but as a set of parts copied out by the composer himself, his father and other hands. This suggests that its original, or perhaps its eventual, destination lay outside the PietÓ's walls." He also mentions that the part of the viola d'amore in the Gloria was copied out by Vivaldi's father. It is probably too speculative to state, as Caroline Panel does, that this part was written for one of the star violinists of the PietÓ, Anna Maria 'del violino'.

The liner-notes don't mention a rather curious piece by Vivaldi's contemporary Pietro Antonio Locatelli, a violin virtuoso like himself. The Sinfonia funebre is a piece that the composer wrote at the occasion of the death of his wife, as the title - not included here - indicates: "composta per le esequie della sua Donna che si celebrarono in Roma".

The performances are generally pretty good. The participation of violins in O vergin santa seems a little odd. Unfortunately, the track-list does not indicate the scoring. It does sound a bit too 'modern' to my ears. The singers in these laude do a fine job, though. It is Eva Za´cik who is the 'star' of the show. I have expressed my admiration for her singing previously, and she does not disappoint here. Now and then she uses a bit too much vibrato, but overall her use of it is well-judged. Notable are the speedy tempos of some sections of Nisi Dominus, such as the first one. Also notable is the amount of ornamentation, which is more extensive that I have heard in other recordings. I am not sure that she always got it right. The cadenza on "excussorum" in 'Cur sagittae' seems a mistake. Why the basso continuo in 'Vanum est vobis' is played by plucked instruments alone is a bit of a mystery to me. Invicti bellate is very well done, and a nice addition to the catalogue. The instrumental ensemble is first class.

All in all, this is an interesting and musically captivating recording, which puts Vivaldi's motets nicely in its historical and spiritual context.

Johan van Veen (ę 2022)

Relevant links:

Eva Za´cik
Le PoŔme Harmonique


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