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Dixit Dominus
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Dixit Dominus, RV 595 [25:24]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Dixit et Magnificat, KV 193 [10:57]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Dixit Dominus, HWV 232 [32:24]
La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
rec. live, May & June 2015, Théâtre L’Atlàntida à Vic, L’Auditori de Barcelone, Cité de la Musique à Paris
ALIA VOX AVSA9918 SACD [68:45]

The Dixit Dominus Psalm might seem like an unusually conservative theme for one of Jordi Savall's discs, but the booklet notes point out that its position at the head of the Catholic Sunday Vespers service means that it has been set by a vast number of composers, of whom the three here are only the most famous examples. It's interesting to compare the approaches of the three, and you get the added (and, by now, expected) bonus of a scholarly essay and lavish illustrations in the booklet.

The opening of the Vivaldi is marvellously busy, bristling with semiquavers and gleaming trumpets, and the French rhythms of Donec ponem come across with agile flexibility. Some peculiarly Savallian viols steal the show at Tecum Principium before a Baroque trumpet takes centre stage in Judicabit in nationibus, accompanying a radiant Anthony Roth Costanzo (who, nevertheless, sounds strangely underwhelming in the subsequent De torrente). All are on form for the final trio, however, and the concluding chorus successfully recaptures the bustle of the opening, combined with a warm double fugue.

Jumping straight from Vivaldi into Mozart is a bit of a lurch, with its more Rococo sound world, as well as its trumpets and drums, but this is a youthful work for the composer, and so it doesn't take long for your ear to tune in. Both the Dixit and the Magnificat move quickly (Mozart's setting of the psalm is barely over three minutes) but they provide an agile and light-hearted counterpoint to Vivaldi’s more extended meditation.

These are but the hors d’oeuvre, however, for one of the Psalm's greatest settings: the one Handel composed for Rome in 1707 (thus making it the earliest of the settings on this disc). The strings sound sensational as they surge up and down the opening lines, the chorus sounding clipped and precise, and the solos seeming to emerge with naturalness from the texture. Costanzo duets with a marvellous solo cello in Virgam virtutis, and Marta Mathéu sounds rich and characterful rather than simply bright. The chorus toss off the tricky counterpoint of the central sections with breezy flair, and their small size means that inner textures are easily audible. They also sound like they're having a great time at Conquassabit. De Torrente feels rather poignant, and acts as a curtain-raiser to a precisely weighted final doxology.

So while the programme is niche, and it may not contain as many revelations as some of Savall's other projects, it's still very well done and definitely worth a listen, particularly for the marvellous Handel.

Simon Thompson



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