We all know that Vivaldi wrote demanding and virtuosic concertos for violin. It is only in the past few years, however, that his sacred motets for voice and ensemble have been played and recorded with the regularity that they deserve. The verdict is in: Vivaldi was no less lenient on his singers. The four motets on this CD could give nightmares to all but the bravest sopranos. (Actually, it is likely that Vivaldi intended these motets to be sung by male castratos or countertenors, because women generally were not allowed to sing inside churches.) For this music to be optimally effective, the singer must have superb agility and purity of tone, and also temperament – Vivaldi is pitilessly pictorial, whether he is writing about the wrath of God (In furore giustissimae irae) or a storm at sea (In turbato mare irato). Cecilia Bartoli has proven her mettle in Vivaldi's secular vocal music, and now her countryman Patrizia Ciofi proves hers in the sacred repertoire. The distinction, however, may be unimportant, because these four motets are as dramatic and involving as any operatic scena.
Catherine Bott's fine CD with the Purcell Quartet (Chandos Chaconne CHAN0613) contains In furore, a later setting of Laudate pueri (RV 601), and other works written after 1720. Ciofi and Biondi present a broader assortment of Vivaldi's music. The earlier setting of Laudate pueri appears to have come from the mid 1710s, before the composer was 40. His youthful vigor is given away in sections such as "Suscitans a terra inopem" which has a saber-rattling fury not really justified by the text! (There is a distinctive contribution from Stéfan Legée's bass trombone in this movement, and also in RV 627.)
Ciofi is a wonder on this CD, singing with brilliance and drama, and with the sort of vocal clarity and innocence that Kathleen Battle used to have. If Vivaldi had heard her, he might well have argued against the practice of castrating promising choirboys! Biondi and Europa Galante play in their familiar style – that is to say, with slashing accents and strong contrasts. (They are an original instruments ensemble.) On a Sunday morning, this CD will awaken you better than any double espresso!
A convent in Parma was the location for the recording, which dates from September 2003.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle