This recording of Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat
has a profoundly comfortable - and comforting - feeling. Recorded
in 1991, Neville Marriner directs his impeccable chamber forces
in a performance which gives the occasional nod to period performance
without doing anything to frighten the horses. The disc belongs
to the long tradition established by such groups as the Academy
of Ancient Music and the English Chamber Orchestra, of playing
baroque music with relatively small groups of players; thus eschewing
massively inflated baroque performance, but never quite giving
fully-fledged period performance. Phrasing and articulation are
admirable, clean and neat, but would not be out of place in Mozart
In fact these
performances stand at two removes from what we might postulate
Vivaldi or Bach actually heard. Standing aside from period
performance practice issues, neither composer wrote for the
forces assembled on this disc. Vivaldi’s Gloria was
written for the all-female ensemble at the Pieta, with choir
in four parts all sung by women. This was achieved because
some of the women in the choir sang tenor or bass. Andrew
Parrott has gone part of the way in this repertoire by recording
the Gloria with an all-female ensemble, but with tenor
and bass parts sung an octave higher. More recently the Schola
Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi, conductor Richard Vendome, have
received praise performing Vivaldi’s works for the Pieta with
an all-female ensemble that incorporates women tenors and
basses. I have heard them in concert and can testify to the
remarkable success of the enterprise and the notable difference
in sound an all-female choir makes.
With Bach the
issue is not so much with who performed it, but rather how
many performers were there? Though scholars still argue over
the matter, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bach’s
performances of many of his works would have adhered to the
Lutheran tradition of using just one or two voices per part,
with the soloists singing the choral parts. This makes a lot
of sense of the Magnificat, where there are five soloists
each of whom is allotted just one aria.
So, if you are
looking for up to date period performance then stop reading
here. You will need to look elsewhere. I’d suggest Paul McCreesh’s
performance of the Bach Magnificat on Archiv, which
sticks pretty close to the composer’s original voicing. Regarding
Vivaldi’s Magnificat there are numerous recordings,
but I would look at Rinaldo Alessandrini’s on Naïve.
What we must do
now is decide whether this recording works on its own terms.
And the answer is a resounding yes. Marriner has assembled
a fine, balanced cast, all of whom sing admirably with that
mix of lightness combined with classical tradition which he
brings to the performance. This whole recording is of a piece,
and that is what makes it such a delight and such a comfort.
and Ann Murray are the admirably paired soloists in Vivaldi’s
Gloria; both bring beauty of line and a feeling
of élan. Hendricks and Murray recur in Bach’s Magnificat
along with Jean Rigby, Uwe Heillman and Jorma Hynninen. Here
we have one, slight, curiosity. In the Magnificat
Murray sings the second soprano part, rather than the alto
part which is allotted to Jean Rigby. Still, all three sing
with the same fine feeling for Bach’s line. Heillman sounds
a little stressed at times in the upper voice, but I have
no real complaints about him or Hynninen.
The chorus, the
Academy Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields acquits itself
admirably. They bring a good sense of line, clear textures
and balance sound to both pieces; only occasionally does the
odd stodgy moment creep in.
The Academy of
St. Martin-in-the-Fields play clearly and warmly, contributing
some good solo moments. All is presided over benignly by Neville
Marriner. His speeds are on the steady side, which has the
advantage of giving his performers leeway in the passagework.
But the performance always sounds light and fluent, never
heavy; this is one of its great advantages.
As filler we are
given three well known movements from Bach cantatas culled
from a variety of recordings both distant and recent. This
result is a charming survey of Bach performance styles. The
final two fillers both feature solo items from Janet Baker.
The first is her performance of an arrangement of an aria
once attributed to Bach, followed by the inimitable Bach/Gounod
This is not a
recording which aims to emulate period practice; instead it
takes Bach and Vivaldi on its own terms. But it does so stylishly,
with clarity and great warmth.