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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Musica Sacra vol. 5
Mottetto RV626 “In furore iustissimae irae” [12:55] (1)
Sinfonia in B minor RV169 “Al Santo Sepolcro” [05:03] (2)
Laudate pueri RV601 [23:10] (3)
Concerto in D minor for violin, organ and strings RV541 [09:07] (4)
Concerto in F for violin, strings and harpsichord “per la Solennità di San Lorenzo RV286” [12:27]
Sandrine Piau (soprano (1, 3), Stefano Montanari (violin)(4), Marcello Gatti (flute) (3), Ottavio Dantone (Organ) (4), Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
rec. July 2005, Abbaye de Saint-Michel en Thiérache
NAÏVE OP 30416 [62:56]

It’s beginning to dawn on me that we’re living in a golden age of Vivaldi interpretation. We’re at a time when modern interpreters seem to have to struggle to regain that natural relationship with the great classical and romantic repertoire which seemed to come easily to the old school of artists. But we’re also at a time when Vivaldi, set aside for a couple of centuries and respectfully revived for a few decades, has taken on a new meaning. Whole droves of early music ensembles are raring and bucking at the bit to dance into the next concerto or cantata or opera. Singers are lined up waiting to fling themselves effortlessly into the sort of coloratura that made us gasp when Marilyn Horne started to give us an idea of what baroque music might really sound like. And Naïve know where to find them.
This enterprising company is busily setting down on disc the entire contents of Vivaldi’s personal manuscript library, which has ended up in the University Library of Turin. This isn’t quite the same thing as recording all Vivaldi, but then I have the idea you never could record all Vivaldi. And if anyone did, just as they got to the finishing line, somebody would find another pile of manuscripts somewhere.
So far, since 2001, Naïve have put out 24 CDs and they reckon on doing another fifty over the next ten years. They are spreading their net fairly widely over the available singers and ensembles. I’ve personally reviewed, so far, Orlando Furioso (see review), which had a remarkable cast headed by Marie-Nicole Lemieux and directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi, with the Ensemble Matheus, and the third volume of Concerti e cantate da camera (see review), where the singer was the mezzo Laura Polverelli with L’Astrée directed by Giorgio Tabacco. Of the two directors, Spinosi was the more radical, with a kaleidoscopically varied continuo realization and bouncy, dancing rhythms. Tabacco was a shade more “normal” but certainly far from heavy or flat-footed.
Dantone is closer to Spinosi. There’s a wonderful fire and fizz to the quick movements, and in the slow movements we have to marvel again at how much richer Vivaldi sounds in these “authentic” performances than he ever did with 1960s chamber orchestras. The Sinfonia “Al Santo Sepolcro” turns up in Italy like a bad penny during every Holy Week with sleepy, largish bands. I’ve now discovered that it’s a work of extraordinary depth, with weird harmonies that would have had heads shaking even a century later.
But the star here – apart from Vivaldi himself – is Sandrine Piau. She is no new discovery, of course, so many of my readers may know better than I did that she can throw off coloratura faultlessly, that she can ascend with total ease to a top D, yet her voice has an almost mezzo-like richness. This is a voice with beef and guts in it – there’s none of that virginal purity that some baroque singers go for. And what’s more, she can invest every phrase with meaning. Terrific. She now records exclusively for Naïve and in a brief introduction she tells us that “for years I’ve felt a deep-seated need to record these pieces”. That’s just what it sounds like.
Regular readers will know that I usually deal with slightly later music than this and that I’m not especially a fan of “authentic” bands. Why is Vivaldi different?
I think, because he was in love with the new instruments that sounded more or less like those here, and he exploited them with as much imagination as Berlioz exploited the burgeoning romantic orchestra. He wanted them like this. Whereas by the classical age these instruments were getting a bit old and composers were maybe looking to the day when they might be perfected. I don’t know whether this same sense of pioneering and discovery can be conveyed in Vivaldi with a modern band, but it rather seems not.
Just one point. Imagine you’re an early-18th century Venetian or Dresdener listening to the first performance of “Laudate pueri”. The words are those of Psalm 112 and it was practically obligatory in those days to round off a psalm-setting with the doxology (“Glory be to the Father …”). So composers had to set those words hundreds of times and the act often got stale, even from Vivaldi. So you’re sitting there and you’ve enjoyed the psalm part but now you’re reaching for your hat and coat because you’re expecting a quick whip through the doxology and then off home. And suddenly a flute, which has been silent up till now, starts playing the most ethereal, delicate melody, which the voice then joins as a duet. Just try to listen to this with ears of the time.
With thorough notes, original texts and translations and several photographs, no effort has been spared to make this a real de-luxe offering. Naïve must be really naïve to think there’s a place for this sort of thing in today’s world. Let’s hope they’re wrong.
Little niggles? I’d have liked specifications of the chirpy little chamber organ used in RV541 and, in the slow movement of this same concerto, the otherwise excellent note-writer – Pier Giuseppe Gillio – doesn’t seem to be describing exactly what I hear. Congratulations, though, to Charles Johnston for an English translation that doesn’t read like a translation.
Christopher Howell


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