to dawn on me that we’re living in a golden age of Vivaldi interpretation.
We’re at a time when modern interpreters seem to have to
struggle to regain that natural relationship with the great
classical and romantic repertoire which seemed to come easily
to the old school of artists. But we’re also at a time when
Vivaldi, set aside for a couple of centuries and respectfully
revived for a few decades, has taken on a new meaning. Whole
droves of early music ensembles are raring and bucking at
the bit to dance into the next concerto or cantata or opera.
Singers are lined up waiting to fling themselves effortlessly
into the sort of coloratura that made us gasp when Marilyn
Horne started to give us an idea of what baroque music might
really sound like. And Naïve know where to find them.
This enterprising company is busily setting down on disc the
entire contents of Vivaldi’s personal manuscript library, which
has ended up in the University Library of Turin. This isn’t
quite the same thing as recording all Vivaldi, but then I
have the idea you never could record all Vivaldi. And if
anyone did, just as they got to the finishing line, somebody
would find another pile of manuscripts somewhere.
So far, since 2001, Naïve have put out 24 CDs and they reckon
on doing another fifty over the next ten years. They are spreading
their net fairly widely over the available singers and ensembles.
I’ve personally reviewed, so far, Orlando Furioso
), which had a remarkable cast headed by Marie-Nicole
Lemieux and directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, with the
Matheus, and the third volume of Concerti e cantate da
where the singer was the mezzo Laura Polverelli with L’Astrée
directed by Giorgio Tabacco. Of the two directors, Spinosi
was the more radical, with a kaleidoscopically
continuo realization and bouncy, dancing rhythms. Tabacco
was a shade more “normal” but certainly far from heavy or
Dantone is closer to Spinosi. There’s a wonderful fire and
fizz to the quick movements, and in the slow movements we
marvel again at how much richer
Vivaldi sounds in
these “authentic” performances than he ever did with 1960s
chamber orchestras. The Sinfonia “Al Santo Sepolcro” turns
up in Italy like a bad penny during every Holy Week with
sleepy, largish bands. I’ve now discovered that it’s a work
of extraordinary depth, with weird harmonies that would have
had heads shaking even a century later.
But the star here – apart from Vivaldi himself – is Sandrine Piau.
She is no new discovery, of course, so many of my readers
may know better than I did that she can throw off coloratura
faultlessly, that she can ascend with total ease to a top
D, yet her voice has an almost mezzo-like richness. This
is a voice with beef and guts in it – there’s none of that
virginal purity that some baroque singers go for. And what’s
more, she can invest every phrase with meaning. Terrific.
She now records exclusively for Naïve and in a brief introduction
she tells us that “for years I’ve felt a deep-seated need
to record these pieces”. That’s just what it sounds like.
Regular readers will know that I usually deal with slightly
later music than this and that I’m not especially a fan of “authentic” bands.
Why is Vivaldi different?
I think, because he was in love with the new instruments
that sounded more or less like those here, and he exploited
as much imagination as Berlioz exploited the burgeoning romantic
orchestra. He wanted them like this. Whereas by the classical
age these instruments were getting a bit old and composers
were maybe looking to the day when they might be perfected.
I don’t know whether this same sense of pioneering and discovery
can be conveyed in Vivaldi with a modern band, but it rather
Just one point. Imagine you’re an early-18th
Venetian or Dresdener listening to the first performance
pueri”. The words are those of Psalm 112 and it was practically
obligatory in those days to round off a psalm-setting with
the doxology (“Glory be to the Father …”). So composers had
to set those words hundreds of times and the act often got
stale, even from Vivaldi. So you’re sitting there and you’ve
enjoyed the psalm part but now you’re reaching for your hat
and coat because you’re expecting a quick whip through the
doxology and then off home. And suddenly a flute, which has
been silent up till now, starts playing the most ethereal,
delicate melody, which the voice then joins as a duet. Just
try to listen to this with ears of the time.
With thorough notes, original texts and translations and
several photographs, no effort has been spared to make this
a real de-luxe offering.
Naïve must be really naïve to think there’s a place for this
sort of thing in today’s world. Let’s hope they’re wrong.
Little niggles? I’d have liked specifications of the chirpy little
chamber organ used in RV541 and, in the slow movement of
this same concerto, the otherwise excellent note-writer – Pier
Giuseppe Gillio – doesn’t seem to be describing exactly what
I hear. Congratulations, though, to Charles Johnston for
an English translation that doesn’t read like a translation.