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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sacred Music, Vol. 2

Laudate pueri Dominum, RV 600 [22.13]a
Stabat Mater, RV 621 (c. 1711) [18.50]b
Canta in prato, ride in monte, RV 623 (1723-24) [08.31]a
Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625 (c. 1715) [11.09]b
Tracy Smith Bessette (soprano)a
Marion Newman (mezzo) b
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
rec. Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Canada, 7-9 May 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557852 [60.53]

Naxos 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 Sutton). Vivaldi’s sacred idiom alternates passages of great tenderness and sombre beauty, rich in expressiveness, with highly operatic movements of colourful and exciting virtuosity.
Vivaldi 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.
Three 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.
In 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.
Biographer 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.
The Clarae 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.
In 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.
I 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.
The 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.
Michael Cookson

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 ten verses.
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 bravura.
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.

Robert Hugill


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An invaluable source of relevant information on Vivaldi’s sacred music can be found in the paperback:
Michael Talbot ‘The sacred vocal music of Antonio Vivaldi’ published by Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki (December 1995); ISBN: 8822243617


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