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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia in D, RV125 [6:40]
Ascende laeta, RV635 [8:25]
Juditha Triumphans RV644: Vivat in pace [3:46]; Transit aetas [4:17]; Umbrae carae [5:33]
O qui coeli terraeque serenitas, RV631 [13:30]
Sinfonia “Al Santo Sepolcro”, RV169 [3:46]
Laudate pueri in C minor, RV600 [24:45]
Johannette Zomer (soprano)
Tulipa Consort
rec. November 2015, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam

The Tulipa Consort, making its CD début here, is unusual in that it is an instrumental ensemble formed by a singer. Johanette Zomer tells us that, tired of having to make difficult artistic compromises with conductors, she decided to create her own hand-picked body of players to allow her “artistic freedom from the very beginning”. If that sounds like the utterances of a true diva, determined to guarantee herself top-billing and to be sure of showing her voice off to its fullest unimpeded by the artistic sensibilities of others, the evidence of this CD could not be more contrary.

An all-Vivaldi programme built around the extended C minor setting of Psalm 113, Laudate pueri, certainly provides her with ample scope to demonstrate her undoubted excellence as a singer of this repertory, full, as it is, of brisk, virtuosic runs (which she executes with hugely impressive agility and clarity of articulation), demandingly high tessitura (which she manages with precision and wonderfully clear focus), quasi-dramatic recitatives (which she delivers with a great deal of poise) and long-breathed arioso lines (which she caresses with consummate care, notably in the serene Largo movement of the motet O qui coeli terraeque serenitas). But there is much more to it than merely a vehicle to display a voice singularly well-equipped to perform Baroque music.

For a start, there is an empathy between singer and instrumentalists which results in a singularly effective unity of tone and integration of line, and this clearly stems not just from the instrumentalists’ clear understanding of the voice but, more particularly, the singer’s innate sense of the instrumental texture. She integrates with the instruments in a way which is rare indeed and makes for some utterly captivating performances; not least the enchanting duet with mandolin (Michiel Niessen) in the delicate aria “Transit aetas” from Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio, Juditha triumphans.

More than that, however, this is far from being a mere collection of numbers from Vivaldi works featuring the soprano voice. The disc opens with the purely instrumental Sinfonia in D (RV125), one of Vivaldi’s classic fast-slow-fast concertos for four-part string orchestra. The advantages of a singer/director are immediately obvious in a performance which has an almost vocal sense of line. Those of us who have spent years teaching young instrumentalists to think how they would sing a line before playing it on their instrument, will find here full justification for this approach; how much more coherent and satisfying this performance is simply because there is such logic and naturalness to the phrasing. These aspects of the Tulipa Consort’s playing are even more vividly highlighted in the exotic two-movement Sinfonia “Al Santo Sepolcro”, the other wholly instrumental item on this disc of unexpected treasures.

Clemens Romijn’s eminently readable and informative notes remind us that, until 1939, Vivaldi’s music for the church was “one of the best-kept secrets of music history”. Since then, among the works which have established their place in the repertory is the first of three (possibly four) settings of the text Laudate pueri. Possibly the pure and mellifluous voice of Mhairi Lawson (Avie AV2063 - review) gives more sincerity, if rather less drama than Zomer, but while Lawson is supported by the splendid period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima under Adrian Chandler, the sense of total integration between instruments and voice in Zomer’s account gives it the edge, and makes this a truly wonderful CD to add to the already impressive discography of Vivaldi’s sacred works. May we hear a lot more of Zomer and her Tulipa Consort in the years ahead.

Marc Rochester



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