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CD Review

Antonio Vivaldi

Decca 4783615

Sacred Works

  • Gloria in D Major, RV 589 1,2,5
  • Motet "Nulla in mundo pax sincera", RV 630 1,5
  • Cantata "Amor Hai Vinto", RV 651 1,4
  • Stabat Mater in F minor, RV 621 3,4
1 Emma Kirkby, soprano
2 Judith Nelson, soprano
2 Carolyn Watkinson, contralto
3 James Bowman, countertenor
2 The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
4 The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
5 The Academy of Ancient Music/Simon Preston
Decca Virtuoso 4783615
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Readers who follow my work (all three of you, I'm sure) know that I really don't review very much Baroque period music. It's not music that I consider myself an expert on, save for some of the choral works and miscellaneous concerti. I feel like I know enough of the Vivaldi Gloria to contribute, though. All of this music save for the Stabat Mater with James Bowman was available on L'Oiseau-Lyre 4557272 as a twofer. From some outlets it may still be readily obtainable, but this single-disc issue – despite having admittedly less music – is at once cheaper and more user friendly. It still showcases the art of Emma Kirkby very effectively, and also shows The Academy of Ancient music in fine form early on in the period-practice movement.

What impresses me most about this reading of the famous Gloria is the beautiful singing of the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. They really come through clearly, and nothing has that "boomy" (read: overly-reverberant) quality that sometimes ruins great performances by English choirs. A quick look at my twofer set confirms the recordings took place at the Parish Church of St. Jude on the Hill outside London. The orchestra also has a pleasingly full sound that never turns anemic. Check out the brass, who confidently ring out when required. This may be a small point for most, but there are a few sections where the organ plays an important role, and the instrument has a deliciously fruity tone that fits the music well. I would not be surprised if conductor Simon Preston is also the uncredited organist. Speaking of Preston, his conducting is assured, even driven. If this performance lacks anything, it's that last bit of warmth and joy. Still, much of this is excellent.

The other pieces are smaller vocal works, and Emma Kirkby stars in both the Cantata and Motet. She had an ideal voice for this repertoire, crystalline and bright, but always full-bodied and agile. It's not a voice I'd listen to all day, but there's absolutely no question that she gets inside the texts as few others have. Simon Preston seems a good deal more relaxed in the Motet than the Gloria, and again the instrumentals are outstanding. The Cantata features Christopher Hogwood in charge of the Academy, with a lovely sounding harpsichord entering the picture. If I thought Preston was playing the organ in the previous two works, I wouldn't be shocked to find that Hogwood was in charge of the keyboard here. Recorded four years later than the first half of the program, in 1982, this latter recording finds Kirkby still at the peak of her form.

The program ends with a setting of the Stabat Mater. Countertenors are definitely a "love-it-or-hate-it" concept, and I confess I haven't heard enough of them to make a definitive statement either way. James Bowman's voice is easy on the ear, and the words are clearly audible. For whatever reason, the strings of the Academy under Hogwood seem to have lost some of the warmth heard on the rest of the program, but this is a beautifully sung and played performance all the same. I'm honestly not certain if listeners coming to the Vivaldi Gloria for the first time – the budget series "Virtuoso" is aimed at beginners – also want these vocal works. But if the program appeals, everything about it is excellent. No texts are provided, which is rather inexcusable.

Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman

Trumpet