musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Vespro a San Marco"

Mariana Floresa, Maria Soledad de la Rosab, Caroline Weynantsc, soprano; Joëlle Charlierd, Evelyn Ramireze, contralto; Fabián Schofrin, altof; Valerio Contaldog, Fernando Guimarãesh, tenor; Alejandro Meerapfel, bassi
Choeur de Chambre de Namurj; Les Agrémens
Dir: Leonardo García Alarcón

rec: Oct 2, 2010, Ambronay, Abbaye
Éditions Ambronay - AMY029 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (1.57'50")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
plainchant/Vivaldi: Deus in adiutorium - Domine ad adiuvandum (RV 593)bhj; plainchant: Sancti tui Domine, antiphon; Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus (RV 807)abcefghij; plainchant: In caelestibus regnis, antiphon; Vivaldi: Confitebor tibi Domine (RV 596)fhij; plainchant: In velamento clamabant, antiphon; Vivaldi: Beatus vir (RV 795)abdefij; plainchant: Spiritus et animae, antiphon; Vivaldi: Laudate pueri (RV 600)ab; plainchant: Fulgebunt justi, antiphon; Vivaldi: Lauda Jerusalem (RV 609)ab; plainchant: Lux perpetua, antiphon; Vivaldi: Magnificat in g minor (RV 610)abcefgij; plainchant: Oremus; Vivaldi: Laetatus sum (RV 607)j

Antonio Vivaldi has written a considerable number of sacred works. Some of them take the form of a solo motet, which in character isn't that different from his solo cantatas. In addition he also wrote pieces for a vesper liturgy. In his capacity as violin master at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice the writing of liturgical music wasn't part of his duties. Therefore there isn't quite clear for which occasions or even which institution or church his sacred music was written. That is reflected in the different scorings. Some pieces have only solo parts for soprano and alto, and this suggests they could have been written for the girls of the Ospedale. But Confitebor tibi Domine (RV 596) is scored for alto, tenor and bass, and that means it must have been written for a church or chapel with only male voices.

In his liner-notes Leonardo García Alarcón seems to suggest that Vivaldi's sacred output is a more or less ignored part of his oeuvre. That is quite beside the truth: some pieces are very popular and often performed, in particular the Magnificat in g minor (RV 610). But other works have also been recorded. In fact, the complete sacred oeuvre has been recorded by Robert King (Hyperion). In this recording music for Vespers is presented with antiphons for the feast of St Mark, the patron saint of Venice.

As there was variety in the way the Vespers were constructed recordings of Vesper liturgies can vary considerably. If you have the Vespers by Monteverdi in mind you will notice some of these differences. The liturgy begins with the versiculum and responsory Deus in adiutorium - Dominus ad adiuvandum. It is followed by the first Vesper psalm, Dixit Dominus, preceded by the antiphon Sancti tui Domine. Strictly speaking this should be repeated after the psalm, but that is not the case. But then, this is - as Lionel Desmeules writes in his liner-notes - "rather than a reconstruction, an evocation of the Office of Vespers, whose principal framework is the appropriate music composed by Vivaldi". In most Vespers one then expects to hear the psalm Laudate pueri, but here Vivaldi's setting of this psalm is allocated to the second disc. After the Dixit Dominus we hear Vivaldi's only setting of Confitebor tibi Domine (a second setting is preserved incomplete). It is preceded by the antiphon In caelestibus regnis. Psalm 111/112, Beatus vir, doesn't appear in every Vesper Office; we hear a version which also has been attributed to Baldassare Galuppi.

The second disc begins with the antiphon Spiritus et animae, followed by Psalm 112/113, Laudate pueri. We hear one of four settings by Vivaldi. Then we get the Psalm Lauda Jerusalem, the only setting by Vivaldi, for two choirs and orchestras, each with one solo part for soprano. It is preceded by the antiphon Fulgebunt justi. This Office of Vespers is concluded with the antiphon Lux perpetua, followed by Vivaldi's most popular sacred work, the Magnificat in g minor (RV 610). The applause shows that this is the end of the performance. Therefore we have to conclude that Laetatus sum, preceded by the Oremus, was performed as an encore.

Until some years ago only two settings of Dixit Dominus by Vivaldi were known: RV 594 and 195, both in D. The composition performed here was known for a long time, but attributed to Baldassare Galuppi. In 2005 the Australian scholar Janice Stockigt could identify it as a work by Vivaldi. Since then it has been recorded several times. It is a typical Vivaldi work with some highly virtuosic sections, in particular the tenor solo 'Dominus a dextris tuis', which could easily be turned into a violin solo in a concerto. If the two tenor parts from the verse 'Tecum principium' would be omitted, one probably wouldn't miss much and this section could be taken for the movement of one of Vivaldi's ripieno concertos. The tutti are well performed by the choir, and the solos are also nicely executed, but Evelyn Ramirez uses too much vibrato.

Confitebor tibi Domine is for three voices - alto, tenor and bass - with an orchestra of two oboes, strings and bc. I don't understand why two parts of this piece are sung by the choir - the altos, tenors and basses, that is. There seems no reason to believe that this is anything but a piece for solo voices. In the opening verse Fabián Schofrin is overpowered by his two colleagues. In particular at the lower end of his tessitura his voice isn't powerful enough.

Beatus vir is a setting with strong contrasts. Some verses are virtuosic and extroverted, for instance 'Gloria et divitiae', which once again could be a violin solo; Maria Soledad de la Rosa can hardly keep up with the pace García Alarcón has chosen - which could well be in line with Vivaldi's intentions. The next verse, 'Exortum est', is very different: it evocatively depicts light and darkness: "To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness". It is one example of Vivaldi's expressive powers which is often overshadowed by his virtuosic writing. In the next verse, 'Jucundus homo', the soprano is involved in a dialogue with the obbligato violin. It is notable that after every verse the opening, 'Beatus vir qui timet Dominum', is repeated.

Laudate pueri is scored for soprano, strings and bc. It is rather odd that the solo part is divided between Maria Soledad de la Rosa and Mariana Flores. I can't see any reason for it; both sopranos have different voices, but are both capable of singing virtuosic as well as more modest verses. Lauda Jerusalem is a piece for two ensembles of the same scoring; the second largely acts as an echo of the first. The interplay between the two ensembles works well, just like in the opening piece, Deus in adiutorium. The Magnificat is again nicely performed, but here there is much competition. The solos in the verse 'Sicut locutus' are not entirely convincing because the voices don't blend that well. In the closing Laetatus sum one can enjoy the singing of the Choeur de Chambre de Namur once again.

Considering that this is a live recording one can only admire the level of playing and singing. In a studio recording some less lucky moments could have been corrected, but the advantage of this recording is its liveliness. The engineer should have cut the applause, though. The Laetatus sum could have been given a more suitable place in this set.

The liner-notes are a bit short on information about the various pieces in the programme. There are also several errors in the printed lyrics.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Les Agrémens

CD Reviews