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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1641): "Amor Sacro - Motetti"

Simone Kermes, soprano
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Andrea Marcon

rec: Nov 2004, Toblach/Dobbiaco (I), Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel (Gustav-Mahler-Saal)
Archiv - 00289 477 5980 (© 2007) (67'06")

In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626); In turbato mare irato (RV 627); Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV 630); Sum in medio tempestatum (RV 632)

Luca Mares, Vania Pedronetto, Jonathan Guyonnet, Giuseppe Cabrio, Marta Peroni, Giorgio Baldan, Massimiliano Simonetto, Margherita Zane, Massimiliano Tieppo, violin; Alessandra Di Vincenzo, Meri Skejic, Gianfranco Russo, viola; Francesco Galligioni, Daniele Cernuto, cello; Alessandro Sbrogiò, violone; Ivano Zenenghi, Evangelina Mascardi, lute; Massimiliano Raschietti, organ

The Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon know their ways in Vivaldi's oeuvre as their many recordings show, and Simone Kermes is a brilliant and expressive singer. This orchestra and this singer seem to be a winning combination in a recording of motets by Vivaldi. They worked together in the pasticcio Andromeda liberata, to which Vivaldi also contributed, and the result was most impressive. But for a variety of reasons this disc is disappointing, and the performances never really get off the ground.

The word motet in Vivaldi's time is generally used for a non-liturgical text in Latin, which could be used at several moments during the liturgy, sometimes as substitute for an antiphon. Formally they are close to the secular cantata, and musically the difference between Vivaldi's motets and his cantatas isn't substantial either. Vivaldi's motets always contain two dacapo arias, interspersed by a recitative, and close with an extended and brilliant 'alleluia'. Here, and in at least one of the arias the singer is given the opportunity to show his or her skills. This doesn't mean the motets are nothing more than vehicles for the singer to demonstrate his virtuosity. Their religious content is clear and should not be overlooked.

The motets on this disc span a large part of Vivaldi's career. The earliest is Nulla in mundo pax sincera, which dates from the 1710s. At that time Vivaldi started to write motets when he acted as substitute choirmaster for the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The first aria which declares Jesus as the only source of peace is written in a siciliano rhythm, which doesn't quite come out here due to a lack of dynamic accents in both the voice and the orchestra.

The disc opens with the motet In furore iustissimae irae, which dates from the 1720s. It was written while Vivaldi stayed in Rome during the carnival season 1723-24. The motet begins with an aria in the style of an operatic 'rage aria', expressing God's wrath: "In the fury of most just wrath you show your divine power". This kind of arias don't ask for every word and every note being thrown out as loudly as possible. But that is what is happening: there is little room for differentiation here. Ms Kermes' singing is a bit stiff and doesn't flow naturally. The following recitative isn't as expressive as the text asks for: "Most pious Father of pity, spare me, a sorrowful, languishing sinner, o most sweet Jesus". And in the aria 'Tunc meus fletus' I am not particularly impressed by the ornamentation, which is not very imaginative and varied.

The two remaining motets are very much alike each other. "Both motets employ a metaphor frequently encountered in the world of operatic arias: a ship in storm seas, buffeted by winds and waves, that desperately seeks calm waters and a safe haven. The unruly elements represent the trials and tribulations of life, while the harbour stands for inner peace and salvation," Michael Talbot writes in the booklet. Both motets were written for the court in Dresden, which Vivaldi had very good connections with. The effects Vivaldi uses in the orchestral score to illustrate the text comes out rather well, but I'm far less happy with the singing. The emotional character of the arias isn't fully explored, for instance the last aria of Sum in medio tempestatum: "Always sad, sorrowful, sighing and sobbing, I am happy, I am blessed." For some reason Ms Kermes seems not to be able to communicate the emotional depth displayed here.

The orchestral playing is often colourful and the many effects Vivaldi is using certainly don't remain unnoticed. But the way every aria is closed - the last note is held relatively long and almost always played forte - is too stereotypical.

In short: this recording is disappointing in delivering the emotions the texts and Vivaldi's music are expressing.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Amor Sacro
Simone Kermes

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