musica Dei donum
Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante, serenate a 3 (RV 693)
Mary Nelson (L'Età dell'Oro), soprano; Hillary Summers (La Virtù), mezzosoprano;
Angus Smith, tenor; Neal Davies (La Senna), bass; The King's Consort/Robert King
concert: Utrecht, Oct 17, 2000
Vivaldi's Serenate La Senna Festeggiante isn't a piece which is
often performed. There has been a recording with the Cappella Coloniensis,
but at the moment there is no recording in the catalogue. That is surprising,
since it contains great arias. In fact, it is full of them, as I concluded
during a performance by the King's Consort in Utrecht.
This work is a typical occasional work. It was probably written in
1726 for the name-day of the French king Louis XV. There is hardly a
story in it - as usual in this kind of work - and that was probably
the reason the programme book didn't contain a translation of the
text. Apart from pleasing a VIP such compositions delivered the
singers with an opportunity to show their virtuosity to the audience.
That also means that a performance heavily depends on the quality of
the singers. I think that is the reason the recording I mentioned was
Robert King did a lot better in the concert I attended. The "story" is
extremely simple: two allegorical characters, L'Età dell'Oro (the
Golden Era) and La Virtù (Virtue) are looking for true happiness. They
find it at the banks of the Seine with the god of the river, La Senna.
The soprano Mary Nelson (L'Età dell'Oro) was a new name to me, but I
was quite impressed with her performance. She had a beautiful aria at
the beginning of the first part, a virtuoso imitation of the
nightingale: "Se qui pace tall'or vò cercando l'usignuol che sen vola
cantando, ferma il volo e risponde anch'ei pace". Her performance was
almost perfect. Later on she had another gem: "Al mio seno il
pargoletto", an aria in a very quiet tempo, where both she and the
orchestra impressed with beautiful phrasing and dynamic accents.
I had heard the contralto Hilary Summers before (in Handel's Messiah)
and I liked her then - she is one of the very few female altos I can
stand. She was very convincing in this work by Vivaldi as well. Her
arias are less virtuoso, but very nice. The best was the last one:
"Così nell'aurora", where the soloist is accompanied by muted strings,
which creates a wonderful atmosphere of sunshine and summer warmth,
something we know from the 'Summer' in the Four Seasons.
The bass part is the most brilliant and virtuoso of all three. Vivaldi
expects a very flexible voice, but also a voice with a wide range. The
first aria ("Qui nel profondo") describes the depth and the fast-flowing
water of the Seine. The singer has to sing a lot of very deep notes
and at a high speed. Neal Davies stood the test quite convincingly and
did make me forget that I don't particularly like his voice. Another
highlight was the aria "L'alta lor gloria immortale".
The soloists did blend very well in the ensembles (at the start of the
piece and at the end of both the first and the second part).
The orchestration of this work is pretty conventional: no "fancy"
instruments like the mandolin or the 'salmoè' or whatever. Just
strings with basso continuo, with two recorders and two oboes (at some
passages the two oboists played additional recorders as well). But
even with these limited means Vivaldi proved again to be a master in
orchestration. Very few composers have his ability to create an
atmosphere with an orchestra. The King's Consort realised the
orchestral parts much better than I expected. It isn't as colourful as
the best Italian baroque orchestras, but it certainly came a long way.
Of course, not everything was perfect. First of all I believe that an
Italian orchestra and Italian singers would make more of this piece. I
also think that the soloists could have used more ornamentation than
they did. I am sure that the singers Vivaldi had at his disposal will
have gone further in showing off their qualities. Something I didn't
like was the performance of the recitatives. It is the familiar story:
I can't understand why singers don't take the rhythmic freedom the
composers of the baroque expected.
But on the whole it was a very enjoyable evening. Hopefully this work
will be recorded by Robert King with this cast in the near future.
Johan van Veen (© 2000)