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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Dixit Dominus RV595 [22:08]
Nulla in mundo pax sincera RV 630 [14:00]
Jubilate, o amoeni chori RV639 and Gloria RV 588 [32:09]
(Pieces are undated but c. 1713-1719)
Jane Archibald, soprano; Michele de Boer, soprano; Anita Krause, mezzo; Nils Brown, tenor; Peter Mahon, counter-tenor; Giles Tomkins, bass
Aradia Ensemble and Chorus/Kevin Mallon
Recorded on 15th -20th September 2003 at Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, Canada.
Super Audio CD (SACD)

NAXOS 6.110064 [68:18]


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There is a little bit of a marketing issue with this CD. If we consider the public perception of Vivaldi it is obviously based around the Four Seasons. For those prepared to look a bit deeper certain other works are exceedingly popular. We can include some of the Mandolin (guitar) Concertos, and the Gloria in D major RV 589. No less popular is the Dixit Dominus RV594.

Now it so happens that a true Vivaldi enthusiast will know a) the RV numbers and b) that Vivaldi not only wrote some 400 concertos but also two Dixits and two Glorias. I have to wonder if the tyro may not end up buying the wrong CD. In mitigation, Naxos does explain on back of the cover that these are ‘second’ settings of the well-known works. I just hope that not too many people are confused, annoyed or disappointed. Having said that, there is nothing to be disappointed about on this CD. The ‘alternative’ versions of these quasi-liturgical motets are equally fascinating as their better known counterparts.

None of these works are in short supply in the CD market place. Yet Naxos has been clever in presenting the two ‘alternative’ versions of the Gloria and Dixit Dominus on the one CD. Coupled with this is the less well known ‘motet’ ‘Nulla in mundo, pax sincera’ which is truly a gem waiting to be discovered.

The ‘Nulla’ is extremely lightly scored, being set for soprano soloist, strings and continuo. The text repays study. The work opens with a gorgeous ‘siciliano’ which is representative of the pastoral imagery so popular in the 18th century. Yet the words are hardly bucolic: - ‘In the world is no sincere peace, without gall ... Amid punishments and torments the soul lives content in the sole hope of chaste love.’ Solace, apparently is in Christ alone. It is one of those works that I imagine paints a picture of a society where no one is ‘naughty’ – there is no ‘chambering’ as the Authorised translator of St Paul would have said. However the sting is in the tail. The eroticism of the closing words reveals that mankind has not really changed, in spite of conventions. The soprano sings, ‘But by its hidden mouth touched, a man maddened in love often flows like honey.’ However we interpret these words – whether as religious allegory or as good old fashioned love poetry is irrelevant. The beauty is in the score. Jane Archibald sings this work with such charm and even innocence one could hardly imagine anything improper about these words. The closing Alleluia makes everything OK and drags it back to ecclesiastical usage. A complex and elaborate finish to a lovely work.

The Gloria RV 588 is an interesting companion piece to the more famous RV 589. I suppose if I were asked to spell out the differences I would be hard pressed. However I think it would be fair to say that the former is a touch more subtle than the latter. The work can be linked to an introductory Jubilate, o amoeni chori, (Rejoice, fair choirs) although this is not essential. Naxos has chosen to make this coupling to good effect. The balance between the Jubilate and the Gloria is pointed up by the scoring. The first is scored for solo, strings and continuo and the second for the full orchestral and choral works including trumpets.

The CD opens with the second surviving version of the Vesper Psalm Dixit Dominus – The Lord said unto my Lord. This is a big work by any standards. It is scored for two oboes, trumpet, strings, continuo, five soloists and a five part chorus. What I find totally striking is the mood swings of this work. It is almost as Vivaldi has chosen to write a series of choral variations following the theme of the psalm. From the opening ‘celebratory’ flourishes to the restrained contralto solo in the music for the De torrente in via bibet – He shall drink of the brook in the way. Or the solo trumpet hinting at the judgment to come in the Judicibat in nationibus – he shall judge all nations to the delicious duet for two sopranos in the Tecum principium – The power to rule is with you. I cannot say that this work is more or less enjoyable than the other version – that would be disingenuous. What I will say is that this is a fantastic work that well deserves to be considered beside the better known version.

There is no doubt that this is a rare and fine performance of these lesser known works. Kevin Mallon is well able to control the forces of the Toronto based Aradia Ensemble and Chorus. Their aim is to play early music on original instruments and supported by appropriate scholarship to recreate the best possible sound. They have recorded a mix of orchestral, operatic and choral works with a score of recordings for Naxos including music by Boyce, Saint-Georges, Rameau and Handel.

For the curious, Aradia (not Arcadia!) was the daughter of Apollo’s twin sisters. She was sent to mankind to ‘order the music of the natural world into song’.

I have no problems with the fantastic (SACD) sound quality of this disc; the programme notes are adequate if a little dense. My only complaint is the rather boring cover photograph of what I am not quite sure! Surely they could have found an appropriate painting of sculpture to grace this fine CD.

John France

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