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Gloria RV 589, Magnificat RV611, concertos RV 243 & RV 563
Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini
Ensemble vocal régional de Champagne-Ardenne, Chef de choeur Françoise Lasserre Opus III OPS 1951 *[59:49 & bonus free sampler disc 62:47]
  £6.99  Amazon UK  £4.99   Amazon USA  $7.97

I laughed the first time I pressed play. Surely they must be joking. Had it been an LP I would have checked I hadn't accidentally changed the speed to 45rpm. Imagine a comedy sketch with the conductor constantly glancing at his watch, then ever more feverishly accelerating his baton. Here the opening of the more famous of Vivaldi's two settings of the Gloria is dispensed with in a mere 1:54. George Guest with the Wren Orchestra (Decca 443 455-2) takes 44 seconds longer, Simon Preston with the Academy of Ancient Music (L'Oiseau-Lyre 455 727-2), 29 seconds extra time. Yet overall Rinaldo Alessandrini doesn't speed through the entire work in around 20 minutes flat, but merely shaves about 2-minutes of the usual timing. It is only the opening and the penultimate movement he takes at accelerated tempo. Which raises the question why? Is it the gimmick of the week, the latest startling device to get us to pay attention to music with which we have perhaps become over familiar (though surely not to the extent of a certain other regularly recorded work by Vivaldi). It certainly sounds ridiculous at first, then it is likely to make you angry.

But then… I went back and played the two comparative versions. They certainly sound much more majestic. And then… coming back to this new version… it no longer sounds quite so manic. Rather an odd thing happens. The more one repeats the comparison, the more Alessandrini's version sounds thrilling, the more the older versions sound slow, perhaps too slow. The question becomes, do you want your Gloria to be a work of magnificent grandeur, or one of dynamic immediacy. Which is not to say the expected beauty is not here, it certainly is, especially as when intimate soprano gives way to a solo violin melody in the sixth movement. Stripped down to much smaller, more authentic, forces (the orchestra consists of just 19 players) than many North European performances, a real sense of intimacy permeates this new version. It is music-making built upon the oratorio tradition of 17th century Italy, rather than the grand Cathedral tradition of Britain and Germany. There is of course room for both, and once over the shock of the old made new, Concerto Italiano's interpretation offers many rewards. The contralto Sara Mingardo is particularly fine, as indeed she was on Concerto Italiano's previous Vivaldi disc, Musica Sacra Vol. 1 (which I also review on CMOTW). Strangely, this current release makes no reference to being Vol. 2.

The album is completed by a strong reading of the Magnificat, RV611, and by two concertos, both of which particular benefit from a virtually three-dimensional recording which places the music almost as a tangible entity between and extending far beyond the speakers. The musicianship has great clarity and balance. As a bonus the album comes with a free sampler CD for the Opus III Discoveries range and a 116 page colour booklet introducing the series. The whole thing is packaged in a slim-line 2-for-the-price-of-1 case, all inserted into a card sleeve. An exceptional release.

Gary S. Dalkin

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