An effectively programmed and well-recorded Vivaldi collection.
Graham Rogers 2012
In recent years, French label Naïve has made much of the running in the recorded renaissance of Vivaldi's extensive output, with charismatic European groups such as L'Astree, Il Giardino Armonico and Concerto Italiano at the fore. So it is good to be reminded that high-quality Vivaldi performance is alive and well in other quarters too, and to welcome this new Channel Classics album from British ensemble Florilegium.
The group's sound is less extroverted than many of its European contemporaries, but unbridled flamboyance would not be appropriate in this programme of sacred vocal music and concertos in the ecclesiastical manner. The organ trill on the very first chord of the introduction to the Concerto Madrigalesco – an instrumental adaptation of some of Vivaldi's own sacred music – sets the tone, evoking the hallowed precincts of a grand baroque church. The ensuing fugal Allegro maintains the sombre mien, but the music is kept alive with admirably nimble playing, and there is always an engaging warmth that transcends any religious portentousness.
Flautist Ashley Solomon is a beguilingly subtle soloist in the concerto Il Gran Mogul – the composer's own title, referring to the Indian, or Mogul, empire. The only known survivor of a quartet of national-themed concertos, the music itself has no distinctively Indian connotations, but its gentleness ensures it sits very well in this generally reflective programme.
There is plenty of liveliness and sunshine too – the vespers psalm Laudate Pueri brims with jubilant vigour. Like most of Vivaldi's sacred music, it was written for members of a girls' orphanage in Venice where he worked – so the bright, youthful tones of Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas have an appropriate authenticity. She tackles its dazzling virtuosity with impressively fluency and clarity, and her uncomplicated approach will appeal especially to those who dislike emotional expression in this repertoire – although a touch more vocal personality would surely make movements such as the ravishing A solis ortu more affecting.
Overall, the stylish performances on this effectively programmed and well-recorded collection make a strong case for a nuanced and relatively understated approach to Vivaldi.