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Musica Sacra Vol 1 Sabat Mater RV 621, Clarae stellae, scintillate RV 625 & concertos RV 556, 544a, 579 & sonata RV 130
Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini
Sara Mingardo, contralto
Opus III OPS 30-261 [70:46]

This disc is both volume one in a series of recordings of Vivaldi's scared music, though the album which would appear to be volume 2 (which I also review on Classical Music on the Web, drops the numbering entirely, setting for the title Gloria Magnificat) and also vol. 7 in a series entitled Tesori del Piemonte. A recipe for confusion if ever there was one.

Here Rinaldo Alessandrini quite rightly reverts from the erroneous modern idea that sacred music must necessarily be music which sets a religious text, going back to the earlier notion that any music composed for performance as part of a church service can that sense at least be considered sacred. This then is more a re-creation of music as might have been heard in various services in Vivaldi's time. Anyone hoping for a programme of entirely vocal music may be disappointed, for there are three concertos and a sonata besides the motet Clarae stellae, scintillate RV 625 and the title work, the Sabat Mater RV 621. The instrumental works will neither shock nor surprise, other perhaps than as being considered sacred music in the first place. These are chamber performances, small in scale, clear in texture and detail. Very attractive in their own right, but not enough to make this album essential.

Just as Concerto Italiano bring considerable attack and drama to their Gloria, so contralto Sara Mingardo brings greater emotional involvement and intensity to the vocal works than has recently been the case with performances of Vivaldi. Mingardo treads a middle path between the utter beauty of Emma Kirkby (for instance Opera Arias and Sinfonias - Hyperion CDA66745) and the at times near histrionics of Cecilia Bartoli (The Vivaldi Album - Decca 446 569-2). There is a controlled emotional power with is effective in Clarae stellae, scintillate and stunning in the Sabat Mater. Where so often this work is transformed into beautiful melancholy by a countertenor, Sara Mingardo restores the music to reality, never allowing us to forget that this is the voice (at one step removed) of a woman who has just seen her son savagely murdered by perhaps the most brutal 'civilisation' ever to dominate the world. This is Mary's song at the foot of Christ's Cross, and in this performance we are usefully reminded in a way that no male singer ever can of the sheer horror and despair of the historical event from a mother's perspective. The rest of the album is fine, but Mingardo's harrowing characterisation makes it essential and arguably the finest Sabat Mater in the current catalogue. Other than a really nasty buzz of peak distortion on the left channel at 1:26 in track 21, this is a very fine release indeed.

Gary S. Dalkin

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