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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
The Complete Sacred Music

Magnificat RV610a [13.52] (1, 2, 4, 6)
Lauda, Jerusalem RV609 [7.15] (1, 2)
Kyrie RV587 [8.45]
Credo RV591 [9.12]
Dixit Dominus RV594 [23.03] (1, 2, 4, 6, 7)
In fuore iustissimae irae RV626 [12.51] (3)
Longe mala, umbrae, terrors RV629 [15.21] (4)
Clarae stella, scintillate RV625 [10.49] (5)
Canta in prato, ride in monte RV623 [8.21] (3)
Filae maestae Jerusalem RV638 [7.37] (5)
Nulla in mondo pax sincera RV630 [13.31] (3)
Dixit Dominus RV595 [23.05] (1, 8, 4)
Domine ad adiuvandum RV593 [7.05] (1)
Credidi propter quod RV605 [7.04]
Beatus Vir RV598 [7.11] (1, 8, 4)
Beatus Vir RV597 [25.21] (1, 8, 4, 9, 10, 11)
Juditha Triumphans RV644 [13.31] (12)
In turbato mare RV627 [15.26] (1)
Non in pratis aut in hortis RV641 [12.21] (13)
Stabat mater RV621 [18.45] (14)
O qui caeli terraeque serenitas RV631 [13.20] (1)
Deus tuorum militum RV612 [4.27] (13, 9)
Confitebor tibi, Domine RV596 [13.22] (13, 9, 10)
Beatus vir RV795 [26.15] (1, 15, 16, 17)
Salve Regina RV617 [10.06] (1)
Laudate Dominum RV606 [1.52]
In exitu Israel RV604 [3.29]
Nisi Dominus RV608 [20.40] (15)
Laetatus sum RV607 [3.29]
Laudate pueri RV601 [23.29] (18)
Vestro Principi divino RV633 [8.12] (15)
Jubilate o amoeni chori RV639/ Gloria in excelsis RV588 [33.18] (1, 18, 15, 9)
Sum in medio tempestatum RV632 [16.33] (19)
Laudate pueri RV600 [23.10] (1)
Cur sagittas, cur tela RV637 [9.37] (15)
Sanctorum meritis RV620 [2.18] (1)
Salve Regina RV661 [16.36] (15)
Laudate pueri RV602 [20.13] (18, 20)
Salve Regina RV618 [14.45] (15)
Ascende laeta RV635 [9.18] (21)
Gaude mater Ecclesia RV613 [4.26] (1)
Vos aurae per montes RV634 [13.00] (18)
Gloria Patri RV602a [3.37] (18)
Gloria RV589 [29.77] (18, 20, 21)
Nisi Dominus RV803 [21.52] (18, 19, 17)
Ostro Picta RV642 [7.26] (18)
Giovanni Maria RUGGIERI (fl. c. 1690 - 1720) – Gloria RV ANH 23 [17.42] (14)
Juditha – Ann Murray (mezzo) (12)
Vagaus – Maria Christina Kier (soprano) (12)
Holofernes – Susan Bickley (mezzo) (12)
Abra – Sarah Connolly (mezzo) (12)
Ozias – Jean Rigby (mezzo) (12)
Susan Gritton (soprano) (1)
Lisa Milne (soprano) (2)
Deborah York (soprano) (3)
Catrin Wyn Davies (soprano) (8)
Carolyn Sampson (soprano) (18)
Tuva Semmingsen (soprano) (19)
Joanne Lunn (soprano) (20)
Catherine Denley (mezzo) (4)
Jean Rigby(mezzo-soprano) (13)
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) (21)
Nathalie Stutzman (contralto) (15)
Alexandra Gibson (contralto) (16)
Hilary Summers (contralto) (17)
James Bowman (counter-tenor) (5)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor) (14)
Lynton Atkinson (tenor) (6)
Charles Daniels (tenor) (9)
David Wilson Johnson (bass) (7)
Neal Davies (bass) (10)
Michael George (bass) (11)
The Choir of the King’s Consort
The King’s Consort/Robert King
Recorded 1996 – 2002, St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb
HYPERION CDS44171/81 [11 C Ds: 62.42 + 69.15 + 70.29 + 78.10 + 70.19 + 78.18 + 62.58 + 68.52 + 68.23 + 66.42 + 76.37]


The full extent of Vivaldi’s output was not known until the Italian National Library in Turin acquired the library of his surviving manuscripts.

Just as in the concertos, there was the prejudice that he wrote the same concerto repeatedly and only The Seasons was played, it has taken time for the remainder of his sacred music to come out of the shadow of the famous Gloria.

This compact boxed set (cardboard slip-cases and abbreviated liner-notes) is Hyperion’s repackaging of Robert King’s pioneering project from the 1990s to record all of Vivaldi’s sacred music. And there is a significant amount: eleven well-filled CDs.

Most of the music comes from three distinct periods in Vivaldi’s life. He was trained as a violinist by his father, but life as a jobbing musician brought all manner of surprises. His Stabat Mater RV 621 was written for the patronal festival of the Church of Santa Maria dell Pace in Brescia in 1712; this is probably his earliest surviving sacred music. Then in 1713, Gasparini left his post as choirmaster at the Pieta orphanage where Vivaldi worked as violin-master and orchestral director. Gasparini was not replaced until 1719 and in the interim Vivaldi and the singing-master deputised providing singers for the choir and writing music. The Pieta was not just an orphanage, they also took talented young girls for training as musicians; the boys were trained to be apprentices. This meant the choir was made up solely of girls. Vivaldi’s choral music from this period is four-part SATB with high tenor parts (suitable for singing by women) and simple bass parts. These latter were probably sung either by a few women with really low voices or an octave higher. Solo parts were for high voices and called for some considerable virtuoso talent.

From the mid-1720s to the early 1730s, his second period, Vivaldi wrote a series of more elaborate sacred works, often for two ensembles: two choirs and two orchestras. These are more flamboyant, contrapuntal works than the earlier ones and have bass parts unsuitable for singing by women. There is some connection with the Feast of St. Lawrence and the music may have been written for patronal festivals for the Venetian church of San Lorenzo. Just five works survive from Vivaldi’s third period, when in 1739 he again supplied works for the Pieta.

Disc 1 opens with the Magnificat RV610a which is beautifully constructed, full of well engineered contrasts; the big choral statements being strongly projected by the Kings Consort forces. I found Catherine Denley’s solo contributions a little careful but enjoyed those by Susan Gritton and Lisa Milne.

Lauda, Jerusalem RV609 is a single movement work written for two sopranos (Susan Gritton and Lisa Milne), double choir and double string orchestra with an opening featuring a vigorous chorus and strings. Ensemble and solo moments alternate to create a work with a very satisfying balance.

The Kyrie RV587 for double choir and double string orchestra features a haunting slow introduction; when the choir does come in they produce some stunning choral suspension. The Kyrie is followed by the Credo RV591 for choir and orchestra; barely longer than the Kyrie; Vivaldi seems to have been at pains to ensure the clarity of the words.

The last work on this disc is the Dixit Dominus RV594 for soloists, double choir, double string orchestra, two oboes and two trumpets. A lively opening movement is followed by some lovely contrasting moments; the soprano duet Virgam virtutis tuae, the remarkable upward glissandi on the trumpets in Iudicabit in nationibus and an attractive if effortful duet between the male soloists, Lynton Atkinson and David Wilson-Johnson. Again though, I was a little disappointed in Catherine Denley but did wonder about the tessitura of her part as it sounds a little low for her.

The contribution which Robert King and his forces make to these items is incalculable. As ever, King’s speeds are always apposite and choir and orchestra project with crispness and brilliance.

The 2nd disc consists of six motets for solo voice and string orchestra. Each motet is divided into opening da capo aria, recitative, slower aria and concluding Alleluia; but within this Vivaldi finds some thrilling variations. The first two motets start with brilliant dramatic arias but variety comes from the voice types. In In fuore iustissimae irae RV626, soprano Deborah York copes well with the taxing passagework, but I would have liked a little more vocal bravura, and this contrasts well with the low mezzo-soprano Catherine Denley in Longe mala, umbrae terror RV629, though again I found Denley a little too careful in her passagework. All the soloists on this disc turn in admirably musical performances but with the exception of James Bowman, rather lack the slightly over the top bravura which the pieces require of their soloists.

Bowman’s first motet, Clare stellae, scintillate RV625 is rather courtly and less virtuoso but Bowman put over the words quite vividly. This is also true of his second motet Filiae maestae Jerusalem RV 638 which opens with a lovely accompagnato.

Deborah York is the heroine of the disc, performing three motets in all. The gem of the set is the final motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera RV630, which opens with a lovely siciliana, affectingly sung by York. This is followed by a truly bravura recitative which York throws off with relish going on to give include a cadenza in the bravura final movements.

The third disc opens with the Dixit Dominus RV 595 which starts brilliantly with chorus and trumpets; this promising opening is followed by a lovely soprano solo from Catrin Wyn-Davies and a soprano duet where Wyn-Davies and Susan Gritton blend beautifully with the concertante cello part. Gritton contributes a brilliant solo.

In the short but striking Domine ad adiuvandum RV593, good antiphonal advantage is taken of the two choir layout. Here Susan Gritton contributes a lovely elaborate solo in the Gloria Patri and the piece concludes with a fine Fugue, something not much heard on these discs. Credidi propter quod RV605 is an attractive and rather substantial choral movement. This disc concludes with a pair of settings of Beatus Vir. The first (Beatus Vir RV598), a miracle of compression with a rather short choral part complimented by some lovely singing in thirds from the soloists, it was almost certainly written for the Pieta.

The second Beatus Vir RV597 is far more substantial and makes much of the double nature of the vocal/instrumental forces. A double chorus is followed by a duet for two basses (Michael George and Neal Davies) - quite a rarity - and duet for two sopranos (Susan Gritton and Catrin Wyn Davies); each movement is linked by the antiphon phrase Beatus vir sung by the chorus to the opening music. The result is a most attractively structured work.

Discs 4 and 5 consist of one work, the oratorio Juditha Triumphans. This tells the rather grisly Biblical tale of how Judith seduces the enemy general Holofernes and chops off his head in order to save the Jews; a distinctly odd choice of subject matter given that it was written for performance by an all female cast at the Pieta. All the solo parts are written for female voices. Though the subject matter inclines to the dramatic, Vivaldi’s setting does not; the events unfold in a leisurely fashion with a number of significant arias for each of the soloists. I have not always found this work to be satisfactory, but under Robert King’s vibrant direction and with his superb cast, I was bowled over. It is not easy casting and recording a work with five solo female voices, but King has chosen a group who can all cope with the virtuoso nature of Vivaldi’s vocal writing but who have sufficiently contrasting voices. Maria Cristina Kiehr is the only soprano in the group and is positively brilliant in the role of Vagaus, giving superb shape and projection to her arias. In the title role Ann Murray is superbly affecting; perhaps her passagework is a little smudged but she knows how to use Vivaldi’s vocal lines for telling emotional effect. Susan Bickley has a good ring to her voice as the barbarian general Holofernes. In the relatively short role of Ozias, Jean Rigby is in superb firm voice, making me wish for more.

To vary the vocal quality of the solo number, Vivaldi often accompanies the voices by obbligato instruments; the result is a ravishing sequence of arias accompanied by such instruments as chalumeau, mandolin, recorders and viola d’amore.

Disc 6 consists of a further group of works for solo voices. Susan Gritton is in brilliant form is the lively motet In Turbato Mare RV627 which takes the same form as the motets on the second disc, ending in an Alleluia. Jean Rigby’s motet Non in pratis aut in hortis RV641 takes a different form; a long aria preceded by a recitative and accompagnato, the whole completed with another short recitative. Rigby is on fine form in the lovely, contemplative aria.

The plum on this disc is the Stabat Mater RV621, a much recorded work. Vivaldi sets the verses of the poem in nine contrasting movements, repeating the serene music of the opening. I am rather fond Robin Blaze’s voice, it has something of an edge to it; his account is not the loveliest on record, other counter-tenors can provide sheer beauty. What Blaze brings to the music is a beautifully intelligent sense of line and poise. The result is a performance which is profoundly moving.

Susan Gritton returns for O qui caeli terraeque serenitas RV631, this time a motet in a rather courtlier mode, but still ending in an Alleluia. The disc concludes with a pair of works for soloists and accompaniment, no chorus, neither utilises a soprano soloist and in both, Jean Rigby’s alto part almost sounds as if it could have been written for a man.

Disc 7 opens with another substantial Beatus Vir setting, this time RV795 for one soprano soloist (Susan Gritton) and three altos (Nathalie Stutzman, Alexandra Gibson and Hilary Summers). Again Vivaldi links the solo movements with choral repetitions of the antiphon phrase Beatus vir sung to the opening music, but in this Beatus Vir the number 3 features rather a lot. Susan Gritton first of all has a row of three arias (fast, slow then fast); Gritton is excellent here, displaying good focused tone and fine passagework. Then there is a lovely trio for the three altos, each of them contributing some shapely phrasing. Then there are three alto solos; in the first Alexandra Gibson is a shade careful but in the final two Hilary Summers displays her wonderful caramel tones to good effect.

Gritton is equally on form in the Salve Regina RV617 which features lovely violin playing from Simon Jones in two of the four movements.

Two short choral pieces, Laudate Dominum RV606 and In exitu Israel RV604 complement rather simple homophonic choral parts with more lively string parts. You get the impression that Vivaldi was mainly concerned to get the words over clearly, and perhaps minimise the limitations of his chorus; but Choir of the King’s Consort manage to make much what little is given them.

The disc concludes with a psalm setting for solo voice; the Nisi Dominus RV608 sung by Nathalie Stutzman. Opening with some fine, crisp passagework the piece alternates faster and slower movements, taking in the haunting beauty of the andante Cum dederit, and the larghetto Gloria Patri with a lovely viola d’amore solo from Katherine McGillivray. Though soprano Susan Gritton was on fine form on this disc, it is the lovely, dark alto voices of Nathalie Stutzman and Hilary Summers which stick in the memory.

Disc 8 starts with a further piece for homophonic chorus and lively strings, Laetatus sum RV607. This is followed by Carolyn Sampson in brilliant form in the Laudate Pueri RV601 for soprano and strings. Again Vivaldi alternates fast and slow arias, the fast ones requiring (and getting) some considerable virtuoso brilliance from Sampson. The piece concludes with a bipartite Gloria Patri, the first a beautiful movement with solo flute from Rachel Brown, the second returning to the virtuoso passagework of the opening.

Vestro Principi divino RV633 is a four movement motet constructed like those earlier in the set, with a lively opening, recitative, slower aria and brilliant Alleluia close. In this one Stutzman combines her fine, dark tones with some crisp passagework.

The disc concludes with the Gloria RV588 and its matching Introduzione Jubilate, o amoeni chori RV639. Stutzman is again in fine form in the bravura Introduzione. The Gloria features a lovely duet from Susan Gritton and Carolyn Sampson and fine solo work from Gritton, Sampson, Stutzman and Charles Daniels, plus the obbligato oboe playing of Alexandra Bellamy. But the choir also get their moments to shine as Vivaldi gives them some music to really get their teeth into.

Disc 9 consists of five works for soloist alone, without choir. In the first, Sum medio tempestatum, the four movement (fast, recitative, slow, alleluia) motet provides a good showcase for the lyric coloratura talents of soprano Tuva Semmingsen. Then another Laudate Pueri RV600, sung by Susan Gritton. The opening movement features vigorous strings and some fine passagework from Gritton, but in the slower 2nd movement the throbbing strings suddenly transport us to the world of The Seasons. Slow and fast movements alternate; crisp coloratura from Gritton is followed by a Gloria Patri featuring the violin playing of Simon Jones.

Nathalie Stutzman returns for Cur sagittas, cur tela RV637, a four movement motet which does not end with an Alleluia but with a remarkable dramatic recitative. Stutzman’s solo part is remarkably low; despite the tessitura she contributes some fine coloratura.

Susan Gritton sings the short Sanctorum meritis RV620 and the disc concludes with Salve Regina RV616. In this Stutzman is accompanied by two flutes and double string orchestra. Another low contralto part, well taken by Stutzman, is accompanied by some lovely, rich textured orchestral playing with Vivaldi making the most of his double forces.

Disc 10 opens with the Laudate Pueri RV602. It is quite remarkable how Vivaldi manages to ring the changes on these multiple settings of the same vespers texts. Here sopranos Carolyn Sampson and Joanne Lunn contribute some brilliant, bravura duets accompanied by the relatively straightforward choruses and each soloist gets to sing a lovely, lyric solo.

Stutzman sings the Salve Regina RV618; perhaps not one of Vivaldi’s most inspired works, but Stutzmann is most persuasive. Though Vivaldi alternates slow and fast movements he starts and finishes slowly, the ending particularly is most haunting.

Joyce DiDonato displays some vibrant coloratura in Ascende Laeta RV635; a three movement work with a dance-like final movement. Susan Gritton is the soloist in the short Gaude mater Ecclesia RV634. Carolyn Sampson returns in sparkling form with the motet Vos Aures per montes RV634, in the usual 4 movement format with a closing Alleluia in sprightly triple-time. There is one extra item on the disc, a stray Gloria Patri RV602a.

The final disc in the set opens with the best known work, Gloria RV 589. This finds soloists Carolyn Sampson, Joanne Lunn and Joyce DiDonato, choir and orchestra on peak form and makes a fitting climax to the set. This is followed by the lovely Nisi Dominus RV803, written for just soloists (Carolyn Sampson, Tuva Semmingsen and Hilary Summers) and orchestra. But what gives the work its wonderful festal air is the presence of a variety of obbligato instruments in the different movements. This must have been a real showpiece for the Pieta forces. Kings Consort instrumentalists Katherin McGillivray (viola d’amore), Colin Lawson (chalumeau), Simon Jones (violin ‘in tromba marina’), Jonathan Cohen (cello) and Silas Standage (organ) all match the vocal soloists in their virtuosity. This work has only recently been identified as being by Vivaldi (the manuscript misattributes it to Galuppi) by Michael Talbot in 2003, just in time to be included in this set.

Carolyn Sampson is the soprano soloist in the motet Ostro picta RV642, a pair of brilliant arias separated by a recitative. The closing work in the set is something of a novelty, the Gloria RV ANH. 23, actually a work by Giovanni Maria Ruggieri but which Vivaldi quarried for ideas for both his Glorias. It opens with a magnificent choral statement, decorated with trumpets and throughout the piece the solo numbers are punctuated with massive choral statements. Only Robin Blaze gets a real solo movement, all the rest are combined in solo ensembles (with fine soloists taken from the choir) which make a fine contrast with the choral movements. Whilst one can identify ideas re-used by Vivaldi throughout the piece, it ends with what is apparently the same movement as the Cum sancto spirito from the Gloria RV589, almost as if Vivaldi lifted it bodily.

Despite the compact nature of this boxed set, Hyperion still manage to include an illuminating essay on Vivaldi’s sacred music, complete texts, full track listings and credits. You can even down-load Michael Talbot’s detailed programme notes for each disc from the Hyperion website.

This set is a magnificent pioneering achievement; Vivaldi’s sacred music was written for talented virtuoso soloists and Robert King has assembled a good team who, by and large, do justice to Vivaldi’s music. At all times they are accompanied by the incomparable King’s Consort. Where Vivaldi gives them something to get their teeth into, the Choir of the King’s Consort is equally admirable. The consistently stylish singing and playing from the King’s Consort is one of the great pleasures of this set. Robert King’s tempi are always apt and his musicians respond with playing which is crisp and lively whilst always remaining well shaped; the faster movements have a nice degree of bounce.

The performances here are never less than musical and satisfy in many ways, but the style of performance does have something of the coolness of Northern climes hanging over it. This may be entirely to people’s taste, but it is instructive to compare some of the King’s Consort performances with those of on the Opus 111 label. Opus 111 are currently in the process of releasing their own Vivaldi series, but this covers much more than the sacred music; Opus 111 are attempting to do justice to all of Vivaldi’s music in the National Library in Turin. Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano have contributed discs of the sacred music. Alessandrini’s performances have a vibrancy and vividness to them which is extremely appealing and particularly wonderful when heard live. But I still find myself returning to Robert King and his forces for their crisp perfection. And after all, this wonderful boxed set is available for under £50.

Robert Hugill

 

 



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