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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Amor sacro - Motets
In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626) [15:22]
Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV 630) [13:48]
In turbato mare irato (RV 627) [17:41]
Sum in medio tempestatum (RV 632) [20:02]
Simone Kermes (soprano)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
rec. October 2004, Gustav-Mahler-Saal, Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Toblach/Dobbiaco
ARCHIV 4775980 [67:06]







Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Amor profano - Arias
L'Olimpiade (RV 725): Siam navi all'ond algenti [06:46]
La fede tradita e vendicata (RV 712): Sin nel placido soggiorno [07:43]
Orlando furioso (1714) (RV Anh 84): Ah, fuggi rapido [02:29]
Tito Manlio (1720) (RV 778): Non m'afflige il tormento [04:06]
Semiramide (RV 733): Quegl'occhi luminosi [05:06]
La virtù trionfante dell’amore, e dell’odio, overo Il Tigrane (RV 740): Squarciami pure il seno [03:21]
Catone in Utica (RV 705): Se in campo armato [06:28]
Il Tamerlano (Il Bajazet) (RV 703): Sinfonia [06:04]
Griselda (RV 718): Agitata da due venti [05:31]
Tito Manlio (1719) (RV 738): Dopo sì rei disastri [01:40]
La verità in cimento (RV 739): Amato ben, tu sei la mia speranza [07:25]
Tito Manlio (1719) (RV 738): Combatta un gentil cor [04:34]
La farfaletta audace (RV deest) [06:47]
Giustino (RV 717): Or che cinto ho il crin d'alloro [03:36]
Simone Kermes (soprano)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
rec. November 2006, Gustav-Mahler-Saal, Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Toblach/Dobbiaco
ARCHIV 4776618 [71:36] 


Experience Classicsonline

The Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon know their ways in Vivaldi's oeuvre as their many recordings show, and Simone Kermes is a brilliant and expressive singer. This orchestra and this singer seem to be a winning combination in recordings of vocal music by Vivaldi. They worked together in the pasticcio Andromeda liberata, to which Vivaldi also contributed, and the result was most impressive. In these two recordings, which going by their titles seem to be a diptych, the result varies: the recording of motets is rather disappointing, but the arias from Vivaldi's operas fare much better.

The word 'motet' in Vivaldi's time is generally used for a non-liturgical text in Latin, which could be used at several moments during the liturgy, sometimes as substitute for an antiphon. Formally they are close to the secular cantata, and musically the difference between Vivaldi's motets and his cantatas isn't substantial either. Vivaldi's motets always contain two da capo arias, separated by a recitative, and close with an extended and brilliant 'alleluia'. Here, and in at least one of the arias the singer is given the opportunity to show his or her skills. This doesn't mean the motets are nothing more than vehicles for the singer to demonstrate his virtuosity. Their religious content is clear and should not be overlooked. 

The motets on the disc 'Amor sacro' span a large part of Vivaldi's career. The earliest is 'Nulla in mundo pax sincera', which dates from the 1710s. At that time Vivaldi started to write motets when he acted as substitute choirmaster for the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The first aria, which declares Jesus as the only source of peace, is written in a siciliano rhythm, which doesn't quite come out here due to a lack of accents in both the voice and the orchestra. 

The disc opens with the motet 'In furore iustissimae irae', which dates from the 1720s. It was written while Vivaldi stayed in Rome during the carnival season 1723-24. The motet begins with an aria in the style of an operatic 'rage aria', expressing God's wrath: "In the fury of most just wrath you show your divine power". This kind of arias don't ask for every word and every note being thrown out as loudly as possible. But that is what is happening: there is little room for differentiation here. Ms Kermes' singing is a bit stiff and doesn't flow naturally. The following recitative isn't as expressive as the text asks for: "Most pious Father of pity, spare me, a sorrowful, languishing sinner, o most sweet Jesus". And in the aria 'Tunc meus fletus' I am not particularly impressed by the ornamentation, which is not very imaginative or varied. 

The two remaining motets are very much alike. "Both motets employ a metaphor frequently encountered in the world of operatic arias: a ship in storm seas, buffeted by winds and waves, that desperately seeks calm waters and a safe haven. The unruly elements represent the trials and tribulations of life, while the harbour stands for inner peace and salvation," Michael Talbot writes in the booklet. Both motets were written for the court in Dresden, with which Vivaldi had very good connections. The effects Vivaldi uses in the orchestral score to illustrate the text come out rather well, but I'm far less happy with the singing. The emotional character of the arias isn't fully explored; for instance the last aria of 'Sum in medio tempestatum': "Always sad, sorrowful, sighing and sobbing, I am happy, I am blessed." Ms Kermes fails to communicate the required emotional depth. 

For some reason Ms Kermes seems to feel much more at home in the arias from Vivaldi's operas collected on the second disc, entitled 'Amor profano'. At first I assumed this disc was devoted to secular cantatas, but what we get are arias some of which are recorded here for the first time. 

It has been about ten years since the world has realised that Vivaldi was quite a prominent opera composer and that he wrote a large number of operas. Right now we are in the middle of a process of rediscovering these operas. The series of recordings by the French label Naïve, in its Vivaldi edition, reveals the dramatic strength and musical beauty of his works for the stage. This disc contains a wide variety of arias, some of which are very virtuosic, often reminding the listener of Vivaldi's instrumental concertos, but sometimes also poetic and intimate. 

A recital like this can be useful as an appetizer to those audiences unfamiliar with Vivaldi's operas and not knowing exactly what to expect. But in this case even seasoned lovers of Vivaldi's operas have every reason to purchase this disc, as it presents five arias never recorded before. 

In one case, 'La farfaletta audace', it is even not known for which opera it was written. The aria has been preserved in an isolated manuscript. This is one of the reasons its authenticity isn't established. The other reason is that it is much more galant in style than the Vivaldi's operas we know. This could be the result of the influence of the Neapolitan opera composers towards the end of Vivaldi's life. If it is by Vivaldi, he must have written it not long before his death. Even if it isn't authentic, who would want to miss it, as it is a most delightful aria. Another rather intimate aria is 'Sin nel placido soggiorno' which is the only number from 'La fede tradita e vendicata' that has survived. The opera was written for the 1726 carnival in Venice. 

It may be surprising that 'Ah, fuggi rapido' from 'Orlando furioso' is also recorded here for the first time as there is a recording of this opera in the catalogue. That recording, directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi (Naïve), concerns the 'Orlando furioso' which was first performed in 1727. This aria is from an earlier version of the same libretto with totally different music, only partly written by Vivaldi - the other composer involved was Giovanni Alberto Ristori. Also new is 'Non m'afflige il tormento di morte', from the revised version of 'Tito Manlio' which was performed in Rome in 1720. So far only recordings of the first version of 1719 are available. Lastly, 'Semiramide' was written for the 1732 carnival season in Mantua. Only a handful of arias has survived, one of them 'Quegl'occhi luminosi' recorded here. 

These "world-premiere recordings" are reason enough to recommend this disc, but fortunately the performances support this judgement. Ms Kermes impressively meets Vivaldi’s often extraordinary technical requirements. She also deals convincingly with the more intimate aspects of Vivaldi's operas. The character of each aria is well exposed here. The orchestra, with its colourful playing, gives excellent support. 

That doesn't mean there is nothing to criticise. I think in some cases the ornamentation is a bit overdone. I see no reason for extending Vivaldi's virtuosity by ornamentation or cadenzas which go to the extreme top or extreme bottom of Ms Kermes' voice. To the best of my knowledge it was a rule in those days that in the cadenzas the range of the written-out part should not be crossed as regularly happens here. I also think they tend to be a bit too long. 

And then there is the frequently debated issue of vibrato. Gone are the days that representatives of the historical performance practice only used it as an ornamentation. This may be widely accepted nowadays but I stick to my view that this is in violation of the aesthetic ideals of the baroque era. In this particular case I wonder why Ms Kermes uses it more frequently in the more virtuosic arias and far less in the more intimate pieces. 

In addition, as much as I enjoy the playing of the Venice Baroque Orchestra I find the way almost every aria is closed - the last note is held relatively long and almost always played forte - is just too stereotypical. That concerns both recordings. 

To sum up: 'Amor sacro' is largely disappointing because of the singing of Ms Kermes and the lack of real expression. And since the repertoire is rather well-known I can't see any reason to recommend that disc. 'Amor profano' is much better in regard to expression, and despite my reservations I favour this disc, especially as it contains several arias recorded here for the first time.

Johan van Veen



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