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
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
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'
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