VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus, RV 595 / Gloria, RV 588 (Anita Krause/ Aradia Chorus/ Aradia Ensemble/ Giles Tomkins/ Jane Archibald/ Kevin Mallon/ Michele de Boer/ Nils Brown/ Norbert Kraft/ Peter Mahon) (Naxos: 8.557445)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Sacred Music 1: Dixit Dominus Nulla in mundo pax sincera Jubilate, o amoeni chori - Gloria
Known in his native Venice as the red priest, from theinherited colour of his hair, Antonio Vivaldi was born in1678, the son of a barber who later served as a violinistat the great Basilica of St Mark. Vivaldi studied for thepriesthood and was ordained in 1703. At the same timehe won a reputation for himself as a violinist ofphenomenal ability and was appointed violin-master atthe Ospedale della Piet?á. This last was one of four suchcharitable institutions, established for the education oforphan, indigent or illegitimate girls and boasting aparticularly fine musical tradition. Here the girls weretrained in music, some of the more talented continuingto serve there as assistant teachers, earning the dowrynecessary for marriage. Vivaldi's association with thePiet?á continued intermittently throughout his life, from1723 under a contract that provided for the compositionof two new concertos every month. At the same time heenjoyed a connection with the theatre, as the composerof some fifty operas, director and manager. He finallyleft Venice in 1741, travelling to Vienna, where thereseemed some possibility of furthering his career underimperial patronage, or perhaps with the idea of travellingon to the court at Dresden, where his pupil Pisendel wasworking. He died in Vienna a few weeks after his arrivalin the city, in relative poverty. At one time he had beenworth 50,000 ducats a year, it seemed, but now had littleto show for it, as he arranged for the sale of some of themusic he had brought with him.
Vivaldi had started his service at the Piet?á in 1703.
The following years brought brief gaps in his tenure, butthe allegedly temporary departure in 1713 of FrancescoGasparini, maestro di coro at the Piet?á since 1700,allowed Vivaldi to show his ability in sacred choralcomposition, for which the governors of the Piet?árewarded him in 1715. The following year he wasappointed maestro de' concerti, with a performance ofhis oratorio Juditha triumphans in November 1716.
In 1717 he left the Piet?á and the next year was in Mantuaas maestro di cappella da camera to Prince Philip ofHesse-Darmstadt, Governor of Mantua from 1714 to1735. He renewed his connection with the Piet?á in 1723.
Michael Talbot has suggested datings for Vivaldi'ssacred music. The works here included fall into the firstof the three periods he identifies, the years immediatelyafter the departure from Venice of Gasparini, when thePiet?á needed to find a composer fully competent to takehis place.
The second surviving setting by Vivaldi of theVespers Psalm CIX, Dixit Dominus, RV 595, is scoredfor two oboes, trumpet, strings, continuo, five vocalsoloists and five-part chorus. The opening makescelebratory use of the orchestra, accompanying andframing the choral proclamation of the first verse of thePsalm. The second movement, in B minor, is marked bythe urgent dotted rhythms introduced by theaccompanying strings, before the successive vocalentries, started by the bass and formed by the notes ofthe descending tonic chord. This is later inverted, with asimilar ascending figure introduced by the tenor. Therefollows a lively G major soprano aria with strings andcontinuo. There is a miraculous change of mood andtexture in the A minor duet for two sopranos, framed andaccompanied by two solo cellos and continuo. The nextsection opens in E minor, introduced by the ascendingfigure of the contraltos and scored now for four-partchorus, with strings and continuo. The descendingchromatic harmonies are suggested, not entirelyappropriately, by the words 'et non paenitebit' (and willnot repent). The mood changes with a final brief andbright G major Presto, with imitative vocal entries onthe words 'Tu es sacerdos in aeternum' (thou art a priestfor ever). An elaborate B minor soprano aria giveshostile kings their due, with the instrumental elemententrusted to a single violin line, viola and continuo. Thesolo trumpet suggests the last trump in the dramaticD major contralto solo 'Judicabit in nationibus' (Heshall judge nations), with the last judgementemphatically represented by the chorus. Violin and violaaccompany the following E minor contralto solo. Thefinal Gloria is set in three sections. The first of these,setting the opening words, is a D major trinitarian 3/8trio for contralto, tenor and bass, with continuo. The firstpart of the work is recalled, with the same scoring,leading to a final contrapuntal section of mountinggrandeur.
The motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630, isscored for solo soprano, strings and continuo. The text isanonymous. The first section is an E major siciliano, aconventionally pastoral evocation of the sacred peacethat is its verbal theme, in the form of a da capo aria.
The temptations of the world are alluded to in thefollowing recitative, with figuration that reflects the text.
The following A major da capo aria allows the usualembellishments and short cadenza in its repeated firstsection. The original key of E major returns in theelaborate closing Alleluia.
It has been pointed out that Vivaldi's Gloria, RV 588,which has similarities with the same composer's otherD major setting, the well-known RV 589, owessomething to a setting by Giovanni Maria Ruggieri,notably in the fugal Cum Sancto Spiritu, which is areworking of the other composer's more elaboratesetting. The work survives linked to an Introduction,Jubilate, o amoeni chori, from which it can be detached.
The Introduction sets words of general liturgicalapplication and is scored for contralto (mezzo-soprano)solo, strings and continuo. The Gloria, linked to theIntroduction in the third movement is scored for foursoloists, four-part chorus, two oboes, trumpet, stringsand continuo.
The Introduction starts with a D major virtuoso andlively da capo aria. This leads to a B minor recitative,before the return of the original key and the soloist's linkto the Gloria itself, now with oboes and trumpet andleading to the entry of the choir, but interspersed withfurther solo passages for the contralto, who is heardagain in an elaborate passage, together with other solovoices. The introductory verse, in its listing ofinstruments, suggests a brief moment of glory for theorgan at the word 'organa'.
The B minor setting of 'Et in terra pax' bringsdescending figuration, as one voice imitates another,leading to passages of melancholy descendingchromaticism. Any doubts about the possibilities ofpeace on earth are dispelled by the G major duet forsoprano soloists, 'Laudamus te. Benedicimus te',whether antiphonal or joining together in a happyconjunction of thirds.
'Gratias agimus tibi' is an E minor Adagio for choirand strings, succeeded by a buoyant G major tenorsetting of 'Domine Deus, Rex coelestis', in which dottedrhythms predominate. 'Domine Fili unigenite' is a C majorfugal choral movement, after which an attractive anddemanding oboe solo introduces the A minor Allegrosoprano 'Domine Deus, Agnus Dei'. Both oboes takepart in the solemn choral 'Qui tollis peccata mundi',followed by the gently lilting D major contralto 'Quisedes ad dexteram patris', a movement of celestialtranquillity. Marked Allegro, 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus'opens oboes and continuo, before the entry of the solosoprano in a cheerful G major. The original D majorreturns in the solid choral declaration of 'Cum SanctoSpiritu', before the grandiose fugal movement derivedfrom Ruggieri, involving once more the trumpet, whichadds its own brilliance to the conclusion.Keith Anderson