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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
O qui coeli terraeque serenitas (RV 631) [11:37]
Salve Regina (RV 617)* (09:08]
Laudate pueri Dominum (RV 601)** [22:59]
Vos aurae per montes (RV 634) [13:04]
Suzie LeBlanc (soprano), Gottfried von der Goltz (violin) (*), Claire Guimond (transverse flute) (**), Peter Frankenberg, Frank de Bruine (oboe) (**)
Teatro Lirico/Stephen Stubbs
rec. April, September 1998, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, Netherlands. DDD

The part of Vivaldi's oeuvre which has been rediscovered relatively recently is his sacred music. About thirty of the extant sacred compositions are for solo voice. Most of them are motets, a term used in Vivaldi's time for a composition on a sacred, but non-liturgical text in Latin. Motets were performed at the quiet moments during Mass or Vespers, and ecclesiastical authorities frequently intervened if the practice of including them in the service got out of hand.
There is evidence that Vivaldi wrote many more than those which have come down to us. In 1715, two years after he had taken over the post of maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà, he had already written more than thirty motets. And in 1739 the Conservatorio della Pietà acquired another eleven by Vivaldi. He was clearly inspired by the girls and women of the Ospedale della Pietà, some of whom were able to sing with considerable virtuosity. In the 1730 a contralto from the Ospedale was even called the best singer in Italy.
But not all works of this kind were written for the Ospedale. The first item, the motet 'O qui coeli terraeque', was composed during the carnival seasons in 1723 or 1724 in Rome, where some of Vivaldi's operas were performed. This work is characteristic of the genre. Stylistically the motets are modelled after the secular chamber cantata, and mostly consist of two arias embracing a recitative and close with an 'Alleluia'. The texts are often of a mediocre nature. In 1769 the French writer Pierre-Jean Grosley (in his 'Observations sur l'Italie et sur les Italiens') characterised them as "a sorry collection of rhymed Latin words, in which barbarisms and solecisms are more common than good sense and reason". The virtuosity of the solo line is generally more important than the text.
Vivaldi received commissions from all over Europe. Apart from motets Vivaldi also composed antiphons, hymns and psalms which fitted into the service of Vespers. One of them is 'Laudate pueri Dominum' (Psalm 112/113), written for the court in Dresden, which was very keen on Vivaldi's music and which had imported some Italian singers in the 1720s to perform at the opera. This piece was obviously written for a very virtuosic singer as it requires a voice with a range of two octaves going up to d'''. This range is fully exploited in the verse 'Excelsus super omnes gentes' which includes the words "The Lord is high above all nations and His glory above the heavens" and closes with "and looks down on the low things in heaven and on earth". In these last lines the voice goes up and down on "in coelo" (in heavens) and "in terra" (on earth). The verse 'A solis ortu' begins with a rising scale on the text "From the rising of the sun" and is followed by a descending scale on the words "until the going down of the same". These are followed by the closing line "the name of the Lord is worthy of praise", which contrasts with the first two lines. This contrast is beautifully realised in this performance. Wonderfully expressive is the Gloria Patri, where the soprano is accompanied by a transverse flute. In the next verse, "Sicut erat in principio", two oboes are playing ' colla parte' with the violins, which I think - on the basis of other recordings - is not required in the score, and seems a little strange as oboes play no role in the rest of the piece.
The Salve Regina is one of three settings of this text by Vivaldi. This one is the most intimate, and Suzie LeBlanc sings it nicely, although the Seufzer (sighing figures) in the second verse on words like "suspiramus", "gentes" and "flentes" are not fully exploited. The last verse, 'Et Jesum', is a bit slow considering the tempo indication 'andante'. The tempi are also somewhat doubtful in the last item on the programme, 'Vos aurae per montes', also a relatively late work, written for the patronal festival of the basilica of San Antonio in Padua, which took place on 13 July. There is too little difference in tempo between the first and the second aria, despite the tempo indications, 'allegro' and 'andante molto' respectively. In the first aria both LeBlanc and the ensemble deal admirably with the depiction of the blowing winds and the murmuring of the water.
Let me sum up. Suzie LeBlanc sings well and has a very pleasant and agile voice - she reminds me of Emma Kirkby, but her voice is warmer and mellower - and the Teatro Lirico plays very well, but this interpretation is lacking in dramatic contrast. These vocal works have sacred texts, but in character they are hardly less theatrical than Vivaldi's secular cantatas and operas. That is underexposed here.
Johan van Veen




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