VIVALDI: Gloria, RV 589 / Beatus Vir, RV 597 (John Taylor/ Michael McCarthy/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra/ Oxford Schola Cantorum) (Naxos: 8.550767)
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Gloria in D, RV 589
Beatus vir in C, RV 597
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 ofmaestro di violino at the Ospedale della Piet?á where he maintained a teachingpost on 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 here wereprobably not among thern since they are much more elaborate than anything thesingers 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 first figure,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 soprano soloistsand uses chains of suspensions - a favourite device. The short homophonicsetting of the words Gratias agimus tibi gives way to a fugue of somedexterity, although it must be said that Vivaldi is at his best when dealingwith simpler forms: the following soprano aria with obbligato oboe is a case inpoint. 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. Sequenceis again much in evidence in Domine Fili unigenite, the composerdisregarding convention by resolving suspensions in the violin parts by downwardleaps of a 7th. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei uses contrasting forces: the altosoloist, accompanied by continuo, has descending scalic lines which arepunctuated 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.
Beatus vir is even more structurally cohesive than the Gloria: not onlydoes the opening music reappear for the Gloria Patri, but the phrase 'Beatus vir'becomes a refrain, being interpolated at strategic points in the work, andgiving unity to the whole. This phrase is characteristically simple, its staticvocal lines accompanied by a descending scale. Much of the interest that thispiece holds for the listener relies on the use of double orchestra and choir, athrowback perhaps to the cori spezzati style of earlier Venetian composers, yetat the end of the first movement the two orchestras alternate parallel major andminor tonalities with an almost Schubertian flair and at one point even play twodifferent triads simultaneously: thus the composer manages to be bothretrospective and visionary at the same time. After duets for the choral bassesand solo sopranos, the choral movement Exortum est in tenebris displaysmore complex vocal writing than one would expect, with varied note valuescreating a layered texture. Scalic lines reappear for the ensuing soprano solo,while the choral trio In memoria aeterna combines sequential and fugalelements. In Paratum cor eius Vivaldi uses unison choral writing toillustrate the text, much as Bach was wont to do, while Peccator videbit
alternates fast and slow sections in the Handelian manner to great dramaticeffect.
Schola Cantorum is Oxford University's longest-running chamber choir. It wasfounded in 1960 by the Hungarian dissident Laszlo Heltay, and over the lastthree decades many of the choir' s former members have become involved inprofessional music at the highest levels. Former singers include Emma Kirkby andJane Glover, while Andrew Parrott, Nicholas Cleobury, and Ivor Bolton are amongthe choir's former conductors. Schola Cantorum's patrons are Sir Michael Tippettand Lord Menuhin, and for specific projects the choir has worked under LeonardBernstein, Gunstav Leonhardt, Sir Colin Davis, and Sir Neville Marriner as wellas Britten, Tippett, and Stravinsky in performances of their own music, since1990 Schola Cantorum has been conducted by Jeremy Summerly under whom the choirhas released many recordings and has toured extensively, both in Britain andabroad.
Jeremy Summerly studied Music at New College, Oxford from where he graduatedwith First Class Honours in 1982. For the next seven years he worked for BBCRadio and it was during this time that he founded the Oxford Camerata andundertook postgraduate research at King's College, London. In 1989 he became alecturer at the Royal Academy of Music and in the following year he wasappointed conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford. In 1991 he signed a long-termcontract with Naxos to record a variety of music with Schola Cantorum of Oxfordand the Oxford Camerata.
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Formed in 1967, the Northern Chamber Orchestra has established itself as oneof England's finest chamber ensembles. Though often augmented to meet therequirements of the concert programme, the orchestra normally contains 24musicians and performs both in concert and on disc without a conductor. Theirrepertoire ranges from the baroque era to music of our time, and they havegained a reputation for imaginative programme planning.
Concerts take the orchestra throughout the North of England and it hasreceived four major European bursaries for its achievements in the community.
With a series of recordings for Naxos the orchestra makes its debut on disc.
Nicholas Ward was born in Manchester, the son of parents who met when theybecame members of the Halle Orchestra. At the age of twelve he formed his ownstring quartet which remained together for five years until he entered the RoyalNorthern College of Music in Manchester. Having studied with Yossi Zivoni inManchester and Andre Gertler in Brussels, he moved in 1977 to London where hejoined the Melos Ensemble and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1984 hebecame co-leader of the City of London Sinfonia and leader of the NorthernChamber Orchestra of which he was subsequently appointed Musical Director.