for soprano or alto and instrumental ensemble are still a rather
neglected area of his output. Around forty of them survive and
deserve further investigation. Some twelve of them are the survivors
from a group of cantatas that Vivaldi wrote for the Mantuan
court. Vivaldi’s operatic success in Venice between 1714 and
1718 had attracted the attention of Mantua’s ruler, Landgrave
Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt.
wrote his operas Teuzzone and Tito Manlio for
his new patron and the court’s aristocratic inner circle were
the recipients of Vivaldi’s Mantuan cantatas. The cantatas use
the pseudonyms popular amongst the aristocratic Arcadian communities
of the period, where the educated nobility got together and
wrote poetry under the names of Arcadian shepherds.
this new disc, Mhairi Lawson and La Serenissima give us three
of these cantatas. All three refer to the nymph Elvira. In Tremori
al braccio Elvira’s lover, Fileno, trembles at his inability
to confess his love to Elvira, only overcoming his reticence
in the finale. This trembling enables Vivaldi to introduce some
picturesque instrumental descriptions. In the second cantata,
Elvira, Anima mea, Fileno tells Elvira that he must leave
for a while and begs for one last kiss. In the final cantata,
Lungi dal vogo volto, the returning Fileno sees Elvira
in the distance, finally reaching her to bring the cantata to
a happy conclusion.
Serenissima, under their director Adrian Chandler, intersperse
these cantatas with three of Vivaldi’s instrumental sonatas.
His Graz sonatas
are so-called because the manuscript is housed in the Diozesanarchiv
Graz. The Graz manuscript
is lacking in a bass part and so the sonatas are not well known,
though three survive elsewhere in slightly different forms.
Sonatas 2 and 3 do not survive in any other sources, so Adrian
Chandler has reconstructed the missing bass parts and they are
performed here. The Graz sonatas
seem to have been written in the period 1716-1720, around the
time the Elvira cantatas were written, so they make an ideal
remaining instrumental item on the disc is Vivaldi’s sole surviving
sonata for violin and obbligato cello. Vivaldi used this combination
in concertos and this work uses a three-movement concerto layout
rather than a four movement sonata format.
resulting mixture of works provides a resoundingly satisfying
programme, helped by vivid performances from Mhairi Lawson and
recent years, performance practice in Italian baroque music
has been much influenced by the vividly dramatic concert realisations
from the burgeoning Italian HIP scene. Often seen as more inflected
and passionate than the typically cool and perfect English period
performance, the Italian groups have developed a lively and
intense style which fits well with Vivaldi’s music.
is into this group that La Serenissima seems to fit, providing
crisp dramatic music-making that reflect the vividness of the
music. Adrian Chandler’s solos are involving and lively, whilst
never compromising on the technical side. But these performances
are not about technique, but using technique to further the
drama of the music.
Lawson’s performances are on a par stylistically. She responds
to every nuance of the drama and produces a wonderful kaleidoscope
of vocal styles and colours to inflect the words and music.
The results, which in lesser hands could sound mannered, are
very vivid and taking. Not everyone will like the rather breathy
cooing tone that she sometimes adopts. But no-one can doubt
the aplomb with which she sings this music nor the vividness
that she brings to the drama.
is of course a natural stage creature, but whilst these performances
are dramatic she stays successfully within the chamber nature
of the pieces. You never feel that she is desperately trying
to break out, as can happen in some performances.
only real criticism is that Lawson’s voice seems to have been
recorded in such a way that it suffers a little from harshness
and glare in the upper register. The problem is not over-troubling
and I can vouch for the fact that, in the flesh, Lawson suffers
from none of these problems. So it is a shame that a slightly
more flattering recording could not have been created.
is an appealing selection of rarely performed Vivaldi works,
given in lively and vivid performances that bring out the works’
appeal. The disc is definitely high on my list of recommendations
for this year.