continues its survey of Vivaldi’s Complete Sacred Music with
their second volume in their valuable series. The first volume
is available on Naxos 8.557445 (see reviews by Robert
Hugill and Kevin
sacred idiom alternates passages of great tenderness and sombre
with highly operatic movements of colourful and exciting virtuosity.
had started his service at the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà in
Vienna in 1703. The following years brought brief gaps in his
tenure, but the allegedly temporary departure in 1713 of Francesco
Gasparini, maestro di coro at the Pietà since 1700, allowed
Vivaldi to show his ability in sacred choral composition, for
which the governors of the Pietà rewarded him in 1715. In 1716
he was appointed maestro de' concerti, with a performance
of his oratorio Juditha triumphans in November 1716. In
1717 he left the Pietà and the next year was in Mantua as maestro
di cappella da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt,
Governor of Mantua from 1714 to 1735. Vivaldi renewed his connection
with the Pietà in 1723. Various dates have been suggested for
Vivaldi's sacred music. Those for the Pietà fall generally into
the period after Gasparini's departure, from 1715 to 1717, and
to a later period, from 1737 to 1739, when the position of maestro
di coro was again vacant.
settings by Vivaldi of the second Vespers Psalm CXII, Laudate
pueri Dominum survive. These may be presumed to have
formed part of settings of Vespers intended for major events
in the Church calendar. Although this psalm is included in the
office of Vespers on a number of occasions in the year, forming
part of the group of psalms sung at Sunday Vespers.
the view of biographer Michael Talbot, it was likely that Vivaldi's
setting of the Stabat Mater was the result of a
visit to Brescia by the composer and his father, Giovanni Battista,
a native of that city. The intention was to take part in performances
at the Oratorian church of Santa Maria della Pace for the Feast
of the Purification on 2 February and for further ceremonies
on Sexagesima Sunday in 1711. Vivaldi provided the Chiesa della
Pace with a commissioned setting of the Stabat Mater the
following year, presumably to be identified with the surviving
RV 621, for contralto, strings and continuo. Consisting of twenty
verses, the whole poem, which had been eliminated from the liturgy
by the reforming Council of Trent, was restored for use in full
as a Sequence in 1727. Parts of the original medieval poem, however,
remained in use, including the first ten verses, as set by Vivaldi,
which were used as a hymn for Vespers on the Feast of the Seven
Dolours of the Blessed Virgin on the Friday after Passion Sunday.
Michael Talbot suggests that the motet Canta in prato,
RV 623 was probably written by Vivaldi for Rome during his period
there in 1723-24, perhaps for Cardinal Ottoboni's church of San
Lorenzo in Damaso, for which a different setting of the same
text was used as an Introduzione. Perhaps intended for
a castrato soloist, the short work opens with a virtuoso da
capo aria, setting a text filled with conventional pastoral
allusions. The following recitative provides a link with the
second da capo aria, with further pastoral references
in the text, if not in the music.
stellae, RV 625 seems to have been written about
1715 for the Pietà singer Geltruda, who enjoyed a career
in Venice over some years. It is probably tailored to her
voice, offering a more chaste lyricism than the Canta
in prato, and was presumably performed on the Feast of
the Visitation, 2 July, in the same year, a festival mentioned
in the anonymous text.
the Laudate pueri Dominum, RV 600 and the Canta in
prato, RV 623, the Toronto-born soprano Tracy Smith Bessette
displays her rich, colourful and expressive voice. Bessette is
one of the finest soprano voices in the baroque world that I
have heard for some time. Her flexible vocal ability as heard
to great effect in A solis ortu (track 3) is especially
impressive. Bessette’s vibrato is light and never intrusive,
she is just as comfortable in the lower as in her higher registers.
was less impressed with the voice of Canadian mezzo Marion Newman
in the Stabat Mater, RV 621 and Clarae stellae,
RV 625. She came across as uncomfortable at the lower end of
her range. Although displaying a warm timbre and clear diction,
there was for my taste, too much unsteadiness in her voice and
her vibrato soon sounded irritating.
The period-instrument Aradia Ensemble under the expert direction
of Kevin Mallon are building an excellent reputation for themselves
in the early music field
and I have been fortunate to have heard several of their recordings. Mallon’s
Toronto-based ensemble sound on their best form providing beautiful smooth
playing, that is fresh, bright and immediate.
liner notes from regular Naxos author Keith Anderson are of the
highest quality. In this well presented release Naxos have provided
full Latin texts with English translations. Recorded in 2005
at the Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto the sound quality
from the Naxos engineers is vivid and well balanced.
Robert Hugill has also listened to this disc
This is the second volume of Naxos’s Vivaldi Sacred Music
edition, and like the first it is performed by the Canadian
Aradia Ensemble under Kevin Mallon. Whereas Volume 1 concentrated
on the choral music, this one includes some of Vivaldi’s
best known pieces for solo voice and orchestra.
Laudate pueri Dominum is the second Vespers Psalm.
Vespers was a popular service for the inclusion of elaborate
music. It might be presumed that this could have belonged
to a complete setting of Vespers. The only concrete evidence
we have is the the paper on which the work is written,
which seems to date the work to around 1715, during the
first period when Vivaldi composed sacred music for the
Pieta, where he taught violin. In 1713 he was invited to
help stand in for the absent choir master, Gasparini -
who was only replaced in 1719.
The Stabat Mater is similarly an early work. It probably dates from 1711
when Vivaldi and his father visited Brescia - Vivaldi senior’s native town -
to take part in performances at the church of Santa Maria del Pace. The full
poem, some 27 verses, was cut from the liturgy by the Council of Trent and the Stabat
Mater remained in use in shortened form; thus Vivaldi sets only the first
To these well-known works, the Aradia Ensemble add two
of Vivaldi’s motets. These
motets were written for inclusion in the Mass or Vespers. They usually consist
of two arias linked by a recitative and with a concluding Alleluia. Canta
in prato was probably written for Rome in 1723-24, perhaps for Cardinal Ottoboni’s
church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. It opens with a virtuoso da capo aria. The work
might have been intended for a soprano castrato soloist.
Clarae Stellae, scintillate was written in 1715
for a singer from the Pieta, Geltruda. It seems to have
been written to suit her voice; it is less showy than Canta
in prato and more lyrical. The text mentions the Visitation
so it was presumably written for that feast.
The Aradia Ensemble is an excellent small group, numbering some fourteen players.
They provide crisp, lively playing with a degree of sophistication. If the choice
was just down to them, then I would have no hesitation in recommending this disc.
But as on their previous Vivaldi volume, I have doubts about the soloists; only
on this disc there is no choir to balance the judgement.
Both Tracy Smith Bessette and Marion Newman have pleasant,
warm voices and in the more lyrical sections their contribution
is attractively musical. But neither
seems completely at home in Vivaldi’s showier passages; both have vibratos that
sit uneasily with the elaborate passagework. Tracy Smith Bessette copes well
with the virtuoso passages, especially in Canta in Prato. But both she
and Marion Newman have rather soft-grained voices and their performances sound
a little careful. I would have liked clearer articulation, more of an edge to
their voices and a better sense of line, but most of all a greater feeling of
These are creditable performances and it is tempting to say that at Naxos prices
you could buy this anyway. But there are a number of finer performances on disc
from the likes of Robert King and Andreas Scholl. I would advise you to save
up for one of these.