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Vivaldi – Musica Sacra Volume 4: Vespri sollenne per la festa dell’Assunzione di Maria Vergine

Reconstruction by Frederic Delamea and Rinaldo Alessandrini
Concerto in F major RV 584 for two violins and two organs
Intonation: Deus in adiutorium
Domine ad adiuvandum me festina RV 593 for soli, two choirs and two orchestras
Introduction to Dixit Dominus: Ascende laeta RV 635 for soprano and strings
Psalm 109 Dixit Dominus RV 594 for soli, two choirs and two orchestras
Antiphon: Assumpta est Maria in caelo
Antiphon: Maria Virgo assumpta est
Psalm 112 Laudate pueric RV 600 for soprano and orchestra
Antiphon: Maria Virgo assumpta est
Antiphon: In odorem unguentorum
Psalm 121 Laetatus sum RV 607 for choir and orchestra
Antiphon: In odorem unguentorum
Antiphon: Benedicta filia tua Domino
Psalm 126 Nisi Dominus RV 608 for contralto and orchestra
Antiphon: Benedicta filia tua Domino
Antiphon: Pulchra es et decora
Psalm 147 Lauda Jerusalem RV 609 for soli, two choirs and two orchestras
Antiphon: Pulchra es et decora
Ave Maris Stella
Antiphon to the Magnificat
Magnificat RV 610a for soli, two choirs and two orchestras
Concerto in C major RV 581 for violin and strings
Salve Regina RV 616 for contralto and two orchestras
Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano)
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
Anna Simboli (soprano)
Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Gianluca Ferrarini (tenor)
Matteo Bellotto (baritone)
Antonio De Decondi (violin)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini (director)
Recorded July 2003, Teatro Olimpico, Rome, Italy
OPUS 111 OP 30383 [76.42+76.23]

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By a strange quirk of fate, Vivaldi’s manuscript library has ended up in the National University Library in Turin. Sold to a collector by Vivaldi’s brother, these 27 volumes have passed through various hands and now their contents are being made better known by an ambitious series of recordings. This set is billed as ‘Music Sacra Volume 4’ and describes itself as ‘Solemn Vespers for the Feast of the Assumption’.

Though Vivaldi wrote a lot of sacred music and contributed a number of psalm settings for vespers, no complete cycle of vespers music by him survives. This is something that seems to worry musicologists so instead of giving us a 2 CD selection of Vivaldi’s sacred music written for double choir and double orchestra, we have this putative reconstruction of a vespers service.

In the 18th century, vespers was a highly important service. Along with many composers Vivaldi contributed fine settings of the psalms needed and took advantage of the situation to create highly elaborate settings. The core of this disc is a group of psalm settings for double choir and double orchestra; the missing items being made up from other settings.

The programme opens with the Concerto in F major for 2 violins, an isolated movement which is used as a sacred overture. This is followed by the Responsorium, ‘Domine adiuvandum me festina’ for soloists, two choirs and two orchestras. In the Gloria Patri, Roberta Invernizzi contributes a stunningly lovely solo.

The first psalm, ‘Dixit Dominus’ is preceded by an Introduzione sung in lieu of the antiphon. This Introduzione, ‘Ascende laeta’ for soprano and strings, consists of two arias linked by a recitative. The arias demonstrate the problems inherent in singing some of Vivaldi’s virtuoso vocal music. The technical effects required can mean that the singer is in danger of sacrificing tonal beauty for the sake of virtuoso technique. This is something that I think happens with Cecilia Bartoli and Roberta Invernizzi is a little guilty of this. The Dixit Dominus itself, for soli, two choirs and two orchestras is a tremendous piece which deserves to be better known. The choir and instrumental ensemble of Concerto Italiano give a brilliantly incisive performance. Anyone who has ever been to one of their live concerts will be familiar with the group’s lively and infectious performance style. This style is eminently suited to much of this music.

The next psalm is ‘Laudate pueri’ here performed in a setting for soprano and orchestra, a lovely multi-movement work which is well sung by Gemma Bertagnolli. The first disc concludes with the short psalm ‘Laetatus sum’ in a short lively single movement for choir and orchestra.

The psalm Nisi Dominus is performed by contralto, Sara Mingardo and orchestra. Again Vivaldi shows his skill in producing a varied multi-movement work for just one voice. In this piece, Mingardo’s voice sounds overly bright in the upper register and at times she could be mistaken for a counter-tenor. But there is no mistaking the style with which she sings this music, nor the shapeliness that she brings to the line. The final psalm, ‘Lauda Jerusalem’, is performed in a single movement setting for two sopranos, two choirs and two orchestras.

The recording keeps the best pieces to the last with a tremendous setting of the Magnificat and the deservedly well known Salve Regina. The Magnificat RV610a is for soli, two choirs and two orchestras and receives a fine, enthralling performance from the ensemble and all the soloists. This is followed by another violin concerto in lieu of the antiphon. Finally the vespers reconstruction concludes with the Salve regina for contralto and two orchestras. I am not entirely sure that the low tessitura of the piece suits Mingardo’s voice which sounds rather too rich and plummy, but she sings with a fine understanding of the music.

The reconstruction also includes the various plainchant antiphons needed, but here they are given in arrangements by Rinaldo Alessandrini which are intended to evoke the style of chant performance prevalent in the 18th century. But, though based on printed originals from Rome, these are still speculative reconstructions.

That the music on this disc is all given in stunning performances means that one is inclined to skate over the fact that the structure of the disc is entirely speculative. Not only has Alessandrini has produced the arrangements of the antiphons but he has arranged the single orchestra items to use the double orchestra forces that form the basis of many items in the disc. This is entirely convincing, but I feel worried that so much work has gone into constructing an edifice which is not really of Vivaldi’s making. Did we really need a vespers reconstruction? The high standard of music making on this disc should not blind us to the fact that we would have been better served by a selection of Vivaldi’s superb vespers music, recorded in versions sanctioned by Vivaldi. The idea of a complete cycle of psalms as a single musical entity is a modern construct much beloved of modern performers.

Robert Hugill

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