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George Frideric HANDEL & Antonio VIVALDI: "In furore - Motets by Händel and Vivaldi for soprano and orchestra"

Réka Kristóf, soprano
Accademia di Monaco
Dir: Joachim Tschiedel

rec: August 1 - 4, 2018, Munich, Himmelfahrtskirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91902 (© 2019) (66'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/HU; lyrics - translations: E/D/HU
Cover & track-list
Scores Handel
Score Vivaldi, RV 626

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Gloria (HWV deest) (attr)a; Salve Regina (HWV 241)a; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626)b; Laudate pueri Dominum (RV 600)b

Mary Utiger, Mirjam Sendtner, Nagi Tsutsui, Julia Unterhofer, Bruno van Esseveld, Kristina Kerestey, Maximiliane Norwood, Therese Seethaler, violin; Barbara Daler, violinb, violaa; Maximiliane Norwood, violina, violab; Laura Kneser, Dieter Nel, cello; Michael Schönfelder, double bass; Cornelia Demmer, lute; Robert Schroter, harpsichord, organ (solo); Joachim Tschiedel, harpsichord, organ

When around 1600 Giulio Caccini introduced the monodic principle in secular music, it did not take long before composers started to apply this technique to sacred music. During the first decades of the 17th century, many collections with motets for solo voice(s) were published. Since the middle of the century, arias for solo voice became a fixed part of the new genre of the oratorio. In the course of time, oratorios adopted the traces of opera, and after the turn of the century, many oratorios were a kind of sacred operas. A similar development can be noticed in the genre of the motet. They were mostly intended for liturgical use, but both Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel - the latter during his sojourn in Italy - also composed motets for extra-liturgical performances, for instance in the palaces of the musical patrons of the time. Stylistically, they were often not that different from opera arias, and could be used as showcases of the vocal skills of the performers.

The disc under review here is interesting in that it brings these two masters together in one programme. The liner-notes suggest that the two composers met in Venice, but Donald Burrows, in his book on Handel (in the series 'Master Musicians'; Oxford, 1994) does not mention any meeting. It is notable that he refers to meetings with the two Scarlattis, Francesco Gasparini and Antonio Lotti, but not includes Vivaldi in this list. There can be little doubt about Vivaldi's influence on Handel in his composition of instrumental music, but it is questionable whether that influence also includes vocal music. The two motets by Vivaldi included here are from a later date than Handel's works. Réka Kristóf, in an interview in the booklet, sees a similarity in their writing for the voice. "Händel [sic] and Vivaldi both undertake a highly 'instrumental' approach and I also have to employ my voice in an instrumental fashion. My preparation for the individual works as far as the velocity of the coloratura passages, phrasing and text are concerned is therefore also similar".

The disc opens with Vivaldi's motet In furore iustissimae irae, which dates from the 1720s. It was written while the composed stayed in Rome during the carnival season 1723-24. As many of his motets, it is intended per ogni tempo, which means that it is not connected to a specific time of the ecclesiastical year. It opens 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". Such an episode bears witness to the connection between sacred motets and opera. The fact that the text is neither biblical nor liturgical offered Vivaldi much freedom to treat it the way he liked. It has the standard form of the motet: two arias embracing a recitative, and concluded by an Alleluia.

This motet by Vivaldi is followed by one of Handel's best-known works for solo voice. Salve Regina is a setting of one of the Marian antiphons, and because of its liturgical importance, it has been set numerous times in the course of history. Handel's version was probably first performed in 1707 in Rome in the private chapel of the Marchese Francesco Ruspoli at Vignanello, and was performed again later in Rome. The scoring for soprano, two violins and basso continuo was quite common at the time. What is remarkable about Handel's setting, though, is that it contains an obbligato part for the organ. As Handel was a brilliant organist it isn't far-fetched to assume that Handel played this part himself during the performance. The four sections have tempo indications: largo (Salve Regina), adagio (Ad te clamamus), allegro (Eja ergo) and adagissimo (O clemens).

The other two pieces in the programme don't belong to the category of the motet, but share some of its hallmarks, especially the virtuosic writing for the solo voice. Vivaldi's Laudate pueri Dominum is a setting of one of the Vesper Psalms. It was probably written around 1715, and that indicates that it was to be sung by one of the girls of the Ospedale della Pietŕ. Here the text is split up in ten sections, the last of which is the 'Amen'. The fact that this text is from the Book of Psalms, does not withhold Vivaldi to write a virtuosic part for the soprano, with much coloratura. Notable is the fourth section, which is for soprano and basso continuo, without the participation of the strings. The 'Gloria Patri' includes an obbligato part for the violin. Vivaldi composed no fewer than four different settings of this text, one of them has been preserved in two versions. It seems that the setting performed here is one of the lesser-known. Opera composers like Vivaldi and Handel did not miss the opportunity to highlight dramatic elements in a sacred text. Here Vivaldi explores the opening of the sixth section, 'Suscitans a terra inopem': "He takes up the simple out of the dust".

The Gloria has made a relatively recent entrance into the corpus of Handel's works. It was known for a long time but it was only in 2001 that it was identified as a composition by him. There is no concluding evidence, and it still has no number in the catalogue of Handel's oeuvre, but on the basis of its character and because no other candidate for the authorship could be found, it is assumed to be from Handel's pen. It contains six sections of a contrasting character. Although the Gloria is part of the Mass, this piece is a separate item. At the time, it was highly unusual to set such a text for a solo voice. It is rather odd that it only started to be performed regularly, after it was attributed to Handel. Nowadays it is available in several recordings.

As far as the performances are concerned, I am a bit in two minds. The disc does not have a good start: in the opening of Vivaldi's In furore iustissima irae, Réka Kristóf applies a pretty wide vibrato on almost every note. That quite frustrated my expectations. However, it is not as bad as I feared. I like Ms Kristóf's voice, as well as her overall approach to these four works. Despite my chagrin about her vibrato, even in the opening section of Vivaldi's motet I noted with satisfaction the dynamic differentiation between notes and her good treatment of the coloratura. She is rightly generous in the ornamentation in the second aria, 'Tunc meus fletus', although sometimes it is a little over the top. On long notes she creates some fine dynamic shading, for instance in 'Excelsus super omnes' (Vivaldi, Laudate pueri Dominum). The dramatic opening of the same piece's sixth section I mentioned above, is not lost on her. In Handel's Salve Regina, she uses too much vibrato in 'Eia ergo, advocata nostra', but strongly reduces it in the ensuing 'O clemens', which she sings very well. Overall, the frequent and wide vibrato turns up when she has to sing in a fast tempo, whereas she is much more economical in this department in the slower sections. This suggests that the application of vibrato is not an entirely artistic decision. It is never completely omitted, but there are episodes where it is hardly noticeable, and there Ms Kristóf's singing can be very subtle, such as in 'Et in terra pax' (Handel, Gloria). The playing of the Accademia di Monaco leaves little to be desired.

On balance, there are just a little too many shortcomings to unequivocally endorse this disc. Those who have a special liking of this repertoire may investigate it, especially those who don't care that much about the vibrato thing.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Réka Kristóf
Accademia di Monaco

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