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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Nisi Dominus, RV 608 [20:29]
Credo from the Crucifixus RV 592 [2:51]
Stabat Mater, RV 621 [18:29]
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor, RV592 & 608)
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto, RV592 & 621)
Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
rec. July 2007, Salle Surcouf, Brest, France. DDD
NAÏVE OP30453 [42:37]
Experience Classicsonline

This latest offering in the naïve label’s continuing Vivaldi Edition has a lot to recommend it. While generosity isn’t among the single Digipak’s attributes - there is less than three quarters of an hour’s music - the beauty of Vivaldi’s vocal lines and textures and the sophistication and honesty of its performance by distinguished soloists and ensemble are. Though with reservations – is it too honest?
Philippe Jaroussky’s counter-tenor is controlled, rich with pathos and sinuous to just the right degree … if a little breathy. Listen to his articulation of the ‘Cum dederit’ movement of the Nisi Dominus for intimate, expressive communication at full force. Then there’s the same work’s ‘Sicut sagittae’ for sheer virtuosity varnished with appropriate restraint.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux has a wider repertoire and sings with depth and richness in the short ‘Credo’ (only) from the Crucifixus, RV592, and the lovely Stabat Mater. She brings to this familiar work a dignity and passion that would surely have pleased Vivaldi. His mind must have been as much on the drama of the setting as its liturgical power. Lemieux, who never fails to take her time and wring the appropriate pathos from every phrase and to dot her ‘i’s and cross her ‘t’s, sustains well the Stabat Mater’s insistence on dolorousness – languor almost. Seven of its nine movements are adagio or slower. Singing neither despite nor at the listener, she manages to involve us less by the particularities of her articulation and phrasing, than by drawing attention to the music’s detail. It is in a way redolent of Ferrier, for Lemieux’s voice is on the high side – listen to the ‘Quis est homo’, for example. She too … breathes well.
The strings of the Ensemble Matheus, which specialises in Vivaldi, are particularly rich. Under their conductor, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, they achieve that bite necessary to convey Vivaldi’s earnestness and dedication to his unstoppable creativity, to his god and to the performers of his own day. But their playing on this CD is never snappy or brusque to the extent that it could have excluded either gentility or gentleness. It’s the sound, close-up and ‘without a net’ that one hears here. The opening of the Stabat Mater’s ‘Eja Mater’ leaves nothing to the imagination with phrase after phrase from the violins almost as raw as one would like.
But Ensemble Matheus plays a more precise role: although they take the lead in melodic development, they do more than merely underline the singing. Their underplayed presence throughout the brief but lovely Crucifixus, for example, is neither accompaniment nor domination. It’s support for the interweaving of the involved solo singing. It has to be said though that in one or two places there is a slight wobble and a hint of lack of unison. Listen to the end of the Stabat Mater’s ‘Fac ut ardeat’, for example.
Spinosi’s approach is as functional as it is loving. The conception and the singing are committed and competent, But for all that, the experience, the feeling of musical occasion, the sense of having immersed oneself in two major and one extracted acts of devotion leaves something to be desired. The performers’ approach is not a perfunctory one; nor is their execution wooden. But there is almost a uniformity to the whole that is in danger of drawing its teeth. It’s not that the performers don’t sound well – and well together; nor that the interpretations - of phrasing, line and rhythm - lack competence.
Any lingering reservation may lie in the fact that the performers collectively don’t seem prepared to let go, to let the music carry them where it will. It’s as if the ensemble is unfolding classical, rather than Baroque, music. It lacks the spontaneity of an Alessandrini. The latter’s Stabat Mater (naïve 30367) and Nisi Dominus (naïve 30383), both with Sara Mingardo, might prove more satisfying on repeated listenings. There is no viable recorded alternative for the Crucifixus ‘Credo’ available, so if the persuasive and very individual singing of Marie-Nicole Lemieux appeals, then this won’t be a bad choice.
The CD comes with introductory essays in French and English and abbreviated Latin texts with translations in French and rhymed English. The recording is close and clean.
Mark Sealey


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