VIVALDI Vespri per l' assunzione
No, not the ‘Vivaldi Vespers’, nor even a reconstruction of a specific event, but a kind of ‘sacred concert’ in Vespers form, of the sort that Venetian churches in Vivaldi’s time – ever aware of the power of music to swell a congregation – were wont to mount in the name of worship. Whether or not Vivaldi ever supplied all of the music for any such occasion is not clear – no complete integrated cycle exists – but he certainly set plenty of Vespers texts, enough at any rate for Rinaldo Alessandrini and scholar Frédéric Delaméa to put together this rich programme of delights.
The putative occasion is a Vespers for the Feast of the Assumption as it might have been heard in one of Venice’s more important churches, and brought together for it from various corners of Vivaldi’s output are settings of the five Vespers psalms, a Magnificat, a Salve Regina, a solo motet (Ascende in laeta) and a couple of orchestral concertos. Unmistakably Vivaldian in almost every bar, these pieces nevertheless show considerable variety; the psalms range from the opulence of Dixit Dominus for five soloists, two choirs and two choirs, to the expressive solo settings of Laudate pueri and Nisi Dominus (the latter’s nocturnal ‘Cum dederit’ movement being one of Vivaldi’s most sublime inspirations), to the breezily functional choral treatments of Laetatus sum and Lauda Jerusalem, while Ascende in laeta is a virtuoso showpiece for soprano, and the Salve Regina a sombre vehicle for contralto. The liturgical thread is supplied by plainchant antiphons, prettily rendered in a fascinating conjectural imitation of the 18th century’s ‘corrupt’ manner, which is to say with organ accompaniment and unabashed ornamentation.
The main attraction of this new release to CD buyers must lie in its offering a different package and, of course, an alternative performing style to that of Robert King’s series on Hyperion. King’s Vivaldi allies excellent solo and choral singing to an unaffected simplicity of approach which is constantly refreshing to the ears, but Alessandrini finds more intensity in the music, more detail, and an energy which is both forthright and controlled, without a suggestion that it comes any less naturally than King’s style does to him. His solo singers are likewise of high quality; Roberta Invernizzi and Sara Mingardo are already established in the front rank of Italian Baroque singers, capable of expressive lyricism and thrilling virtuosity in equal measure, but Gemma Bertagnolli is no less effective here. Alessandrini’s orchestra plays with inspiriting precision and life, but his choir is easily outsung by King’s, and poorly favoured in the recorded balance. Indeed, the recorded sound as a whole is less satisfactory than Hyperion’s, being generally noisier and in places suffering a distant mechanical whir.
Still, the overall effect is what counts most in a recording like this, and whether or not the Vespers context actually means much in wider terms, it sounds as if it has allowed Alessandrini to bring to the music a vital sense of direction. The result is two-and-a-half hours of invigorating listening.