Buy it, and give the Four Seasons a break…
Andrew McGregor 2007
Here comes yet another reminder, should we still need it, of the rewards that await us when we look beyond the most familiar works by Vivaldi to the vast hinterland of his relatively little-known scores. I’m not sure that Universal is doing quite the right thing by putting a sticker on the jewel box claiming these as ‘a vocal Four Seasons’, but you know what they’re getting at…and it only takes the first two movements from Vivaldi’s motet In furore iustissimae irae to sweep away any doubts about the work, or these performances.
It’s from Rome in the 1720s and the opening aria is full of surging runs and ringing orchestral chords, as the singer trembles before the wrath of the Almighty. Simone Kermes gleams and glitters, hitting the heights impressively cleanly…then in the gently rocking recitative that follows, she pleas for forgiveness, floating cleanly across some awkward intervals, sliding expressively but never self-indulgently from note to note, caressing the phrases, and using her vibrato intelligently as an expressive tool. It’s a touching performance, and if you’ve come across the Venice Baroque Orchestra before, you’ll know that their expressive range can take them from a full-bodied fortissimo to the most delicate pianissimo in a heartbeat, with some impressively virtuosic string playing. They’re fine accompanists, adapting themselves to Kermes’ every expressive gesture with genuine empathy, before catapulting her into the gymnastics of the Alleluias that end each of the motets. Nulla in mundo pax sincera is the earliest, a prayer for peace through faith. It begins with an aria of almost Handelian beauty and ends with what the notes refer to as a vocal concerto, Kermes using her voice with delicacy and finesse as she joins and then embroiders the string parts.
The other two pieces seem to be the only surviving Vivaldi motets from the 1730s, both of them using the old baroque operatic metaphor of ships buffeted by stormy seas, looking for shelter. The opening aria of In turbato mare irato takes Kermes almost into a chest voice, while the quality and character of the continuo playing in the recitative is a delicious foil to her clean soprano. The recording is balanced to perfection, allowing the plucked instruments through without seeming to favour them artificially, and the voice is balanced alongside the instruments, and allowed to shine among them without becoming too prominent, or drowning under the strings.
More undervalued Vivaldi in performances that will have you catching your breath at times because of the beauties they reveal. Buy it, and give the Four Seasons a break…
This recording is Disc Of The Week on Radio 3's CD Review