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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Sacred works for soprano and concertos"

Elin Manahan Thomas, sopranoa

rec: April 4 - 6, 2011, London, St John the Evangelist Church, Upper Norwood
Channel Classics - CCS SA 32311 ( 2011) (59'01")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto for strings and bc in d minor 'Madrigalesco' (RV 129); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in d minor 'Il Gran Mogol' (RV 431a)b; Concerrto for violin, cello, strings and bc in B flat (RV 547)cd; Laudate pueri for soprano and orchestra (RV 601)a; Nulla in mundo pax sincera, motet for soprano, strings and bc (RV 630)a

Ashley Solomon, transverse flute (solo b); Bojan Cicic (solo c), Persephone Gibbs, Sarah Sexton, violin; Malgorzata Ziemkiewicz, viola; Jennifer Morsches (solo d), Sarah McMahon, cello; Christine Sticher, double bass; David Miller, archlute; Robin Bigwood, harpsichord, organ

Antonio Vivaldi is one of the most popular composers these days. The continuous stream of recordings bears witness to that. The quality of Vivaldi's music guarantees that they find their way to music lovers. But not every disc is a winner. That is also the case here. I wondered why this disc has been made. The programme seems to be put together at random. I have not been able to discover the connection between the items on the programme. Most pieces are also fairly well-known, and there is certainly no lack of recordings. The only exception is the Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in d minor 'Il Gran Mogol' (RV 431a) which was only recently discovered and was first recorded by La Serenissima.

This recording is a typical example of the Anglo-Saxon approach to Italian music. Everything is played nicely and gently, but rather restrained and not very theatrical. The two largest pieces are the psalm Laudate pueri (RV 601) (not 600, as the lyrics have) and the motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV 630). The motets may have been tailor-made for singers to display their virtuosity, that doesn't mean that the text is not important. It isn't given real attention in Elin Manahan Thomas' interpretation. I sometimes had the feeling it could be about everything - it wouldn't make any difference. The recitative shows the problems of so many recording of baroque vocal music: the rhythm is far too strict and not speechlike enough. The closing 'Alleluia' is not very well sung. Laudate pueri Dominum comes off a little better. I particularly liked the opening phrase of 'A solis ortu' (from the rising of the sun) with a n appropriate use of dynamics. But too often a nervous vibrato creeps in, especially when she has to sing forte or at a fast pace. Some top notes are shrill, like on "caelo". There is no reason to sing these notes at full power.

The three instrumental pieces are gently played but don't make a lasting impression. There is too little articulation and too little differentation between notes. The best part is the andante from the Concerto for violin, cello, strings and bc in B flat (RV 547), with a nice dialogue between Bojan Cicic and Jennifer Morsches, accompanied by the lute alone.

None of these recordings has convinced me of the necessity to make this disc. I have been critical about Italian performances of Vivaldi's music which are sometimes are over the top and can be even outright ugly. With this disc we are at the other end of the spectrum. That is just as unsatisfying and doesn't do Vivaldi's music justice either.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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Elin Manahan Thomas

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