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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "In furore, Laudate pueri e concerti"

Sandrine Piau, sopranoa; Marcello Gatti, transverse fluteb; Stefano Montanari, violinc; Ottavio Dantone, organd
Accademia Bizantina
Dir: Ottavio Dantone

rec: July 2005, Thiérache, Abbaye de Saint-Michel
Naïve - OP 30416 (© 2006) (62'56")

Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F 'per la Solennità di San Lorenzo' (RV 286)c; Concerto for violin, organ, strings and bc in d minor (RV 541)cd; In furore iustissimae irae, motet for soprano, strings and bc (RV 626)a; Laudate pueri, motet for soprano, transverse flute, strings and bc (RV 601)ab; Sinfonia 'al Santo Sepolcro' for strings and bc in b minor (RV 169)

Marcello Gatti, transverse flute; Stefano Montanari, Paolo Zinzani, Jun Okada, Florenza de Donatis, Laura Mirri, Andrea Rognani, violin; Diego Mecca, viola; Marco Frezzato, Paolo Ballanti, cello; Nicola dal Maso, double bass, violone; Juan Sebastian Lima, archlute; Ottavio Dantone, Romano Velentini, harpsichord, organ

The part of Vivaldi's oeuvre which has been rediscovered relatively late is his sacred music. About 30 of the extant sacred compositions are written for solo voice. Most of them fall into the category of the motet, a term which was used in Vivaldi's time for a composition on a sacred, but non-liturgical text in Latin. Motets were performed during the quiet moments during Mass or Vespers, and ecclesiastical authorities not seldom intervened if the practice of including them into the service was going out of hand.

Stylistically the motets are modelled after the secular chamber cantata, and mostly consist of two arias embracing a recitative and close with an 'Alleluia'. The texts are often of a mediocre nature. In 1769 the French writer Pierre-Jean Grosley (in his Observations sur l'Italie et sur les Italiens) characterised them as "a sorry collection of rhymed Latin words, in which barbarisms and solecisms are commoner than good sense and reason". The virtuosity of the solo line is generally more important than the text.

There is evidence that Vivaldi has written many more than those which have come down to us. In 1715, two years after he had taken over the post of maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà, he had already written more than 30 motets. And in 1739 the Conservatorio della Pietà acquired another 11 motets by Vivaldi. He clearly was inspired by the girls and women of the Ospedale della Pietà, some of which were able to sing with a considerable amount of virtuosity. In the 1730 a contralto from the Ospedale was even called the best singer of Italy.

But not all motets were written for the Ospedale. The motet In furore iustissimae irae, which starts this disc, was probably written when Vivaldi was in Rome in the mid-1720s. The first aria contains two contrasting sections. The first half is about the rightful anger of God about human sins, which is expressed by fast repeated notes and descending figures like in an operatic rage aria, enhanced here by the orchestra adding strong dynamic accents. The second half is much quieter, reflecting the text which is about God's clemency. In the recitative the singer asks for mercy, expressed by the use of suspiratio figures. This kind of figures are used also in the next aria where the singer talks about his 'languishing heart'.

Vivaldi received commissions from all over Europe. Apart from motets Vivaldi also composed antiphons, hymns and psalms which fitted into the service of Vespers. One of them is Laudate pueri Dominum (Psalm 112/113), written for the court in Dresden, which was very keen on Vivaldi's music and which had imported some Italian singers in the 1720s to perform at the opera. This piece was clearly written for a very virtuosic singer as it requires a voice with a range of two octaves going up to d'''. This range is fully exploited in the verse 'Excelsus super omnes gentes' which says "The Lord is high above all nations and His glory above the heavens" and closes with "and looks down on the low things in heaven and on earth". In these last lines the voice goes up and down on "in coelo" (in heavens) and "in terra" (on earth). The verse 'A solis ortu' begins with a rising scale on the text "From the rising of the sun" and is followed by a descending scale on the words "until the going down of the same". These are followed by the closing line "the name of the Lord is worthy of praise", which contrasts with the first two lines. 'Excelsus super omnes gentes' explores the contrast between 'coelo(s)' (heaven) and 'terra' (earth): "The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens". Here the soprano has to rise to the top of her tessitura on the word 'coelo(s)'. The contrast between the high and the low register is also used in the next verse: 'Suscitans a terra inopem' (He raiseth up the poor out of the dust and lifteth the needy out of the mire". 'Ut collocet' is set like the fact movement of a concerto. Wonderfully expressive is the Gloria Patri, where the soprano is accompanied by a transverse flute.

The singing of Sandrine Piau is very dramatic, which matches the playing of the orchestra very well. But she sometimes uses too much vibrato, in particular in the high register. And as much as I think ornamentation is really necessary and performers shouldn't be too modest in adding it, I think it goes too far here, as in the dacapo section of the last aria of the motet In furore Vivaldi's vocal line is almost 'recomposed'. Adding ornaments should never make the original unrecognisable.

The Sinfonia 'al Santo Sepolcro' (at the Holy Sepulchre) is for strings only, without a keyboard instrument to play the bass part. This work was "probably intended for use in the Holy Week, when the ciborium was placed on an appropriately decorated altar named 'sepolcro'" (Pier Giuseppe Gillio).

Vivaldi has written a small number of concertos with a concertante part for the organ. The Concerto in d minor (RV 541) is one of four for violin and organ, but the right hand of the organ part can also be played on a violin, which explains why it is sometimes higher than the other violin. The slow movement is for violin and organ only, without the tutti. The concerto is given a good performance here, but the recording by Musica ad Rhenum is more dramatic and more brilliant in particular in the first movement.

The last item on this disc is the Concerto in F (RV 286), which is remarkable in that it begins with a largo molto e spiccato which is followed by an andante molto. The following movement is again a largo, and the last movement is fast, but still moderate: allegro non molto. So this is something one wouldn't immediately expect from Vivaldi, whose violin concertos are generally known for their exuberance and virtuosity. This concerto is receiving a wonderfully expressive performance here from Stefano Molinari and the orchestra.

Despite the critical remarks this is a very fine recording which shows the different sides of Vivaldi and bears testimony to his versatility.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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