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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Vespri solenni per la festa dell’Assunzione di Maria Vergine

Contains the following works, reassembled to approximate a complete vesper cycle as performed by the composer in his time:
Disc 1:
Concerto in F RV 584 for two violins and two organs [5:34]
Intonatio: Deus in adiutorum [:14]
Responsorio: Domine ad adiuvandum me festina, RV 593 [7:18]
Introduzione al Dixit: Ascende laeta, RV 635, for soprano and strings [7:59]
Dixit Dominus, RV 594, for soli, two choirs and orchestra [26:02]
Antiphon: Assumpta est Maria in coelo [:36]
Antiphon: Laudate pueri/Maria virgo assumpta est [:30]
Laudate pueri, RV 600, for soprano and orchestra [24:19]
Antiphon: Maria virgo assumpta est [:32]
Antiphon: In adorem unguentorum [:26]
Laetatus sum RV 607 for choir and orchestra [3:12]
Antiphon: In adorem unguentorum [:30]
Disc 2:
Antiphon: Benedicta dilia tua Domino [:21]
Nisi Dominus RV 608 for contralto and orchestra [18:41]
Antiphon: Benedicta filia tua Domino [:24]
Antiphon: Pulchra es et decora [:24]
Lauda Jerusalem RV 609 for soloists, two choirs and orchestra [6:29]
Ave Maris Stella for soprano solo [1:51]
Antiphon: Magnificat [:32]
Magnificat RV 610a for soloists, two choirs and two orchestras [16:10]
Concerto in C major, RV 581 for violin and orchestra [14:40]
Salve Regina RV 616 for contralto and two orchestras [16:19]
Reconstructed by Frédéric Delaméa and Rinaldo Alesandrini

Gemma Bertagnolli, soprano; Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Anna Simboli, soprano; Sara Mingardo, contralto; Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Matteo Bellotto, baritone, Antonio De Secondi, violin.
Concerto Italiano, ensemble of voices and instruments/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Recorded in July 2003 at the Teatro Olimpico, Rome. DDD
NAÏVE/OPUS 111 OP30383 [149:07]



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In what must have been a monumental undertaking, Frédéric Delaméa and Rinaldo Alessandrini, have reconstructed a magnificent Vespers service as it might have taken place in Vivaldi’s time and under his direction. The music as it is presented here would have been performed on a high feast day, in this case, the feast of the Ascension of the blessed virgin. Clocking in at well over two hours, these services must have been major productions, and as contemporary accounts attest, were treated by the attending public much in the same manner as a performance in the theatre.

Alessandrini has opted to use a concerto whose character is suitably solemn for the occasion as a kind of sacred overture, a practice that has significant historical documentation. Amongst a number of interesting features in this recording are the decorated plainchant antiphons, which precede the settings of the psalms and magnificat. It had become rather commonplace in Vivaldi’s day to accompany the singing of Gregorian melodies on the organ. This harmonization of the heretofore-unaccompanied chants completely changed their character, and led to the addition of baroque style embellishments by the singers that met with both approval from the innovators and disdain from the purists. For this recording, the antiphons were reconstructed in a style more common to composers before Vivaldi, as it is perhaps rightly assumed that composing a new accompaniment for these so-called ariettas would have been cumbersome, thus causing a composer such as Vivaldi to use pre-existing music.

Alessandrini has assembled an outstanding roster of musicians for these discs. Although all of the soloists are of notable ability, it is perhaps the females that get the lion’s share of the glory here. This is no doubt owing to Vivaldi’s position as musical director in the Ospedale della Pieta, a home and school for orphaned and destitute girls, which was famous for its outstanding music. Vivaldi composed reams for his female students there.

There are two standout soloists here. First, the soprano Gemma Bertagnolli, who embodies everything that I love in a singer, and a few things that I hate. Ms. Bertagnolli shines in the splendid Laudate pueri, singing with a full, exuberant, and yes, even vibrato-laden tone. She simply exudes spirit and conviction in this reading, and it is a delight to hear a woman sing like a woman in early music, eschewing the straight tone straitjacket in some bogus attempt to sound like a pre-pubescent boy. There are parts of this performance that are absolutely ravishing, such as the stunningly beautiful Sit nomen domine. There are a couple of flaws, however, and their absence would have made this impressive performance absolutely breathtaking. One is the apparent lack of ability to sing long melismatic phrases in a single breath. The resulting broken lines are further injured by Ms. Bertagnolli’s less-than-subtle gasps for oxygen replenishment. The second is the rather aspirated fast coloratura passages that begin in time to sound more like gunfire than singing.

The other standout is contralto Sara Mingardo. Hers is an instrument of lovely burgundy and amber hues, and although I found that at times she used too much pressure in the chest voice, her performance of the Nisi dominus is remarkable for its sustained lines and agile coloratura. Hers is a voice of great warmth and expression, very soothing to the ear.

Soprano Anna Simboli, whose more clarion tone is a pleasing contrast to that of Ms. Bertagnolli, also turns in some excellent performances, her duties being primarily the singing of the numerous introductory antiphons.

The two instrumental concerti are played with a sobriety and solemnity appropriate to a great sacred occasion, but they are also infused with a great sense of celebration, befitting a feast day. Of particular merit is Antonio de Secondi’s fine reading of the Concerto RV 581. He sings with his violin, and his clean articulation of more virtuosic passages doubles in excitement, as he is able to execute them with such grace and ease.

There is nothing at all negative to be said about the ensemble work here. Both the orchestra and the choir (with the minute exception of some unwieldy trumpets) play and sing with warmth, precision and elegance. The sense of balance and pacing is nearly flawless, and Alessandrini maintains just the right equilibrium of tension, release and contrast. The common intonation problems and thinness of tone typical of many period instrument performances is eradicated here perhaps by the conductor’s use of modern pitch (A= 440 hz), which he claims is justified by numerous organological sources. Whether he uses period replicas or modern instruments is unclear in the notes, but the ear tells me that they are probably period tuned high.

Production values are on the whole of the highest order. The two lengthy essays on the music are at times somewhat awkwardly translated, and the layout on the page of the seemingly endless quotes in Mr. Alessandrini’s account are at times annoyingly confusing and unclear. Complete texts and translations are provided. Sound quality is excellent, exquisitely clear and never overblown.

Listening to this assemblage in its entirety does take a bit of an effort on the part of the listener, but it is an effort that pays off many times over. This is music of infinite contrast and variety, and the elegance with which it is presented makes this sizeable package very rewarding indeed. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

 



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