VIVALDI: Gloria / BACH, J.S.: Magnificat (Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra/ Oxford Schola Cantorum) (Naxos: 8.554056)
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Gloria in D, RV 589
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Magnificat in D, BWV 82
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice the son of a professional violinist.
Although Vivaldi underwent training for the priesthood, it was as a musicianthat he evidently excelled: he began playing the violin at an early age and itis known that he deputized on occasion for his father who held a post asviolinist at St. Mark's. Despite his ordination to the priesthood in 1703,Vivaldi decided to pursue a musical career; his first appointment was that of maestrodi violino at the Ospedale della Piet?á where he maintained a teaching poston and off for much of his early life. It was here that the young composerproduced a great deal of his choral music, although the works featured herewere probably not among them since they are much more elaborate than anythingthe singers at the Piet?á could have coped with.
One of the most striking features of Vivaldi's style is his ability tofashion melodies out of even a cadential fragment, and this facility is nowherebetter illustrated than in the opening movement of the Gloria. The firstfigure, with its distinctive octave leaps, is at once rhythmically vital andharmonically stable and lends itself easily to sequential treatment. Typicallyfor a violinist perhaps, the composer often displays a tendency to leaveintricacy to the instruments and to employ the chorus homophonically, as here.
The second choral movement, Et in terra pax, explores this idea further,while extending the harmonic range with a profusion of Neapolitan sixths andsome extraordinary modulations. Even more unorthodox is Laudamus te inthat the opening ritornello is a slightly uncomfortable seventeen bars long;Vivaldi here allows himself some florid vocal lines for the two sopranosoloists and uses chains of suspensions - a favourite device. The shorthomophonic setting of the words Gratias agimus tibi gives way to a fugueof some dexterity, although it must be said that Vivaldi is at his best whendealing with simpler forms: the following soprano aria with obbligato oboe is acase in point. Here a long melody is gracefully unfolded in the metre of a Siciliano,while the continuo line recalls the octave leaps of the first movement.
Sequence is again much in evidence in Domine Fili unigenite, thecomposer disregarding convention by resolving suspensions in the violin partsby downward leaps of a Seventh. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei uses contrastingforces: the alto soloist, accompanied by continuo, has descending scalic lineswhich are punctuated by chordal interjections from the choir and orchestra. Thepenitential section continues with both groups singing separate triple-timemovements, and the work concludes with a recapitulation of the opening for Quoniamtu solus Sanctus and a final fugal movement.
The career of Johann Sebastian Bach, the most illustrious of a prolificmusical family, falls neatly into three unequal parts. Born in 1685 inEisenach, from the age of ten Bach lived and studied music with his elderbrother in Ohrdruf, after the death of both his parents. After a series ofappointments as organist and briefly as a court musician, he became, in 1708,court-organist and chamber-musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, the elderof the two brothers who jointly ruled the duchy. In 1714 he was promoted to theposition of Konzertmeister to the Duke, but in 1717, after a brief period ofimprisonment for his temerity in seeking to leave the Duke's service, heabandoned Weimar to become court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold ofAnhalt-Cothen, a position he held until 1723. From then until his death in 1750he lived in Leipzig, where he was Thomaskantor, with responsibility for themusic of the five principal city churches, in 1729 assuming direction of theuniversity collegium musicum, founded by Telemann in 1702.
At Weimar Bach had been principally employed as an organist, and hiscompositions of the period include a considerable amount written for theinstrument on which he was recognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cothen, wherePietist traditions dominated the court, he had no church duties, and wasresponsible rather for court music. The period brought the composition of anumber of instrumental works. The final 27 years of Bach's life brought a varietyof preoccupations, and while his official employment necessitated the provisionof church music, he was able to provide music for the university collegiummusicum and to write or re-arrange a number of important works for thekeyboard.
Bach's Magnificat was originally heard in Leipzig in 1723 inaversion in E flat major at Christmas Vespers, when movements with seasonaltexts were inserted; the version included on this disc was made by Bach someyears later, returning to the ordinary Magnificat text in order to makethe work performable all year round. Bach's approach to the evening canticle ischaracteristically large-scale. There is no use of recitative, owing perhaps tothe poetic nature of the text: the verses have little natural order of importanceand it is appropriate that they should all be afforded extended settings. Thescoring is unusually rich and includes three trumpets, two flutes, two oboes,strings, continuo, and timpani - one of the largest ensembles to be assembledat the Thomaskirche in Bach's time. Bach takes a literal view of the text inwhich, for instance, the full five-part choir is used to demonstrate Omnesgenerationes (All generations) with soloists used for the more reflectivemovements. In a typically Bachian gesture the opening material returns for Sicuterat in principio (As it was in the beginning).
Schola Cantorum of Oxford
Schola Cantorum of Oxford is Oxford University's longest-running andmost celebrated chamber choir. Much in demand for appearances at major music festivalsin Britain and abroad Schola Cantorum has been conducted by Leonard Bernstein,Gustav Leonhardt, Sir Colin Davis, and Sir Neville Marriner as well as byBritten, Tippett, and Stravinsky in performances of their own music.