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"Venetian Christmas"

Ruby Hughes, sopranoa; Ewa Golinska, violinb; Komalé Akakpo, psalteryc; Martin Gester, organd
Arte dei Suonatori
Dir: Martin Gester

rec: Oct 2013, Mikolów, St John Evangelical Church
BIS - BIS-2089 (© 2014) (74'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/P; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Adolph HASSE (1699-1783): Alma redemptoris matera; Fulgenzio PEROTTI (fl 1750): Sonata for psaltery and bc in Gc; Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709): Concerto grosso à 4 'con una Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale' in g minor, op. 8,6; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (RV 266) (1st version)b; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (RV 270a) (andante)bc; Concerto for violin [psaltery], organ, strings and bc in C (RV 774)cd; Giustino, opera in 3 acts (RV 717) (Ho nel petto un cor sì forte, aria)ac; Salve Regina in F (RV 617)a

When I saw the title of this disc I was expecting Christmas music from the late 16th century, the time of the Gabrielis and music for several choirs. What we get is music from the time of Vivaldi, a name we do not immediately associated with Christmastide. Whereas various composers wrote 'Christmas concertos' to be played on Christmas Eve, no such works are known from Vivaldi's pen. The Concerto for violin in E (RV 270) has the title Il Riposo (rest) and the addition "concerto per il Santissimo natale" but there is hardly anything Christmassy about it. In the liner-notes of the recording of this concerto by Enrico Onofri (Naïve, 2006) the whole issue is not even mentioned. Here we hear only the andante, an alternative to the original adagio. As only the solo part has survived, it has been reconstructed by Olivier Fourés.

This disc seems more or less to limp on two legs. On the one hand it claims to present music for Christmas, on the other it gives special attention to the role of the psaltery in Venetian music. The results have nothing to do with Christmas. That certainly is the case with the aria Ho nel petto un cor sì forte from Vivaldi's opera Giustina. It is the only piece in his oeuvre with an obbligato part for the psaltery. Its use in Venice is documented: the Ospedale della Pietà where Vivaldi was active as a teacher for many years possessed two psalteries in 1709 and in 1760 had a special teacher for the instrument: Fulgenzio Perotti. This is the reason his Sonata in G for psaltery and basso continuo is included, a piece in three movements which is still largely in the style of the baroque era. Perotti is an unknown quantity in his capacity as a composer; in New Grove he is not mentioned, neither as a composer nor as a player of the psaltery.

It is also the reason Vivaldi's Concerto in C (RV 774) has been recorded here. It is scored for violin, organ, strings and bc, but the violin part is given to the psaltery. It is another incomplete piece: only the violin part has been preserved, and again Olivier Fourés made the reconstruction. There is no hint of Christmas here either. That is different in the closing item: Giuseppe Torelli is one of those composers who wrote a Christmas concerto in the form of a concerto grosso which is included in his op. 8, comprising twelve concertos in total.

The remaining items are two of the Marian antiphons, which are strictly speaking not connected to Christmastide, but just like the Magnificat are often associated with it. That explains their inclusion here; after all, both texts include explicit references to the birth of Jesus. Hasse was one of Europe's most important composers of opera, and that also comes to the fore in many of his sacred works. Alma redemptoris mater is divided into three arias; the first and last are quite operatic with plenty of coloratura and they end with a cadenza. Vivaldi's Salve Regina is a little more modest, which can be explained by the less exuberant text, especially in the second section which is about 'sighing', 'groaning' and 'weeping'. Even so, just like Hasse's composition it is a piece for a virtuosic singer.

Ruby Hughes is such a singer, and her part in this CD leaves nothing to be desired. Apart from a rather narrow vibrato now and then she delivers very fine performances, and deals with the coloratura admirably. Fortunately she never ignores the importance of the text. The instrumental works also receive convincing performances. I would have preferred the Concerto in C to be performed in the scoring as intended by Vivaldi, but we should be grateful to Olivier Fourés for reconstructing it, and Komalé Akakpo delivers a fine performance on the psaltery. Perotti's sonata is a nice work and is obviously recorded here for the first time.

This disc's connection to Christmas seems rather loose, but it is a most interesting and musically rewarding production anyway. It can be played at any time in the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Ruby Hughes
Komalé Akakpo
Arte dei Suonatori

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