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Shirley Verrett - Vocal Music Of Vivaldi

Release Date: 02/01/2011 
Label:  Rca   Catalog #: 82321  
Composer:  Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Shirley Verrett
Conductor:  Renato Fasano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virtuosi di RomaPolyphonic Ensemble Of Rome
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Shirley Verrett sings strongly, and with great beauty of tone, and one would be hard put to find another band to match the superb playing of the Virtuosi di Roma.

If only for the first item, this is most welcome record. There are three and a half columns of Vivaldi's concertos in the Master Edition of THE GRAMOPHONE Classical Record Catalogue, but only six specimens of his church music: a 50 per cent increase is no mean addition.

The Credo is a little masterpiece. The text of the Creed, with its multiplicity of short clauses, is almost as hard to set in one movement as that of the Te Deum. Vivaldi brings it off superbly. Priest or no, he gets through the rather dry and un-pictorial matter that opens and
Read more closes the Creed in double-quick time, using essentially the same music for the beginning and the end— a brisk, concerto-fashion allegro in triple time, driven along at a cracking pace by an insistent ostinato, but cunningly varied by occasional hemiola rhythms that run two bars of 3/4 metre into one bar of 3/2. This leaves him free to expend his most imaginative music on the "Et homo factus est" and on the heart of the mystery, the "Crucifixus". The busy orchestra is silent for the former, and the unaccompanied voices wind their slow way through some very expressive modulations from E major to D major. The "Crucifixus" is marked largo, which tempts Renato Fasano into a tempo rather too slow—at this date largo means broad, not necessarily slow. Vivaldi writes an A minor movement over a stabbing ostinato of quavers separated by rests—very likely a pictorial symbol of the nails being relentlessly driven home: the same effect was unmistakable in a Credo by Domenico Scarlatti that I once heard this same choir perform, for it was underlined by the entire string orchestra playing pizzicato chords. It was in Bach's mind too, in the "Crucifixus" of the B minor Mass: what else are those minim chords doing in the wind and strings? (I've yet to hear the movement started forte as Bach intended: it's an expression of intolerable pain and grief.) The Vivaldi may not quite be in that class, but he certainly shows here that he can write moving, deeply-felt music when the need arises. The chromatic wailings rise to a fine climax, and then we're back in the home tonic, E minor, for a brilliantly developed reprise of the opening material. A fine work, and worth the price of the record on its own.

The second item is a setting of the medieval Stabat Mater. The Council of Trent had banished this sequence from the liturgy, along with hundreds of others; but composers continued to set it to music, and it was re-admitted to the Church ritual in 1727, to take its place beside the other four Marian antiphon. Vivaldi's setting, for contralto solo, may possibly have been composed to celebrate this event.

It's certainly worth hearing, though it won't, I think, steal the palm from Pergolesi's duet version. Shirley Verrett sings it strongly, and with great beauty of tone in her upper register; but she does not yet seem quite at home in music as early as this. Rhythms are a little stiff here and there, and the lower passages evoke one or two rather awkward gear-changes. Still, Vivaldi makes some interesting harmonic experiments in the course of the work: listen for the modulations of the "Cuius animam", and the surprising interrupted cadences of the C minor largo. The dotted rhythms of the latter, by the way, surely suggest the self-scourging of the penitent sinner; the passage needs to be taken faster, or at least the dotted notes should be exaggerated. For the "Fac ut ardeat", Vivaldi had the unusual but delightful idea of writing a sort of sacred dance over a pizzicato bass, a 6/8 siciliana which moves to A flat for a moment (a welcome relief from the rather wearing insistence on F minor). The final "Amen" seems somewhat superfluous (F minor again), after Maestro Fasano's excessive ritardando on the cadence of the previous section, which is in the same key.

[A] setting of Psalm 112, Beatus vir, [is] very much in the manner of the choral works that Handel composed during his youthful visit to Italy. It's presumably an occasional piece, very festive and secular in tone, though we don't know for whom he wrote it. Probably some Venetian Maecenas: "Well is it with the man that dealeth graciously and lendeth", runs the fifth verse.

Maestro Fasano asks the whole of his choir, the Polyphonic Ensemble of Rome, to sing the whole of the time. I doubt if Vivaldi really intended this, for many verses clearly demand the services of agile solo voices. The choir is the right size, however: only in verse two was I a little reminded of those awful performances of Handel's "The Lord is a man of war" sung by massed basses. Incidentally, the choral tone on this side sounds much better, to my ears at least, in the mono version: stereo here seems to expose the voices too much.

Beatus vir as a whole falls well below Handel's level. The idea of repeating the opening words to the same music as a refrain after nearly every verse sounds good in theory, but becomes predictable and a trifle boring in practice, even though the dynamics are varied. Individual sections, nevertheless, are often extremely fetching. I remember the Purcellian dotted runs at the end of verse 2 (and the rather alarming click that follows in the stereo version); the tripping duet for two sopranos in verse 3; above all the very beautiful trio for alto, tenor and bass, with its unusual but effortless triple invertible counterpoint, at the words "the righteous shall be had in everlasting memory". Later, at "Cor firmatur", Vivaldi writes an entertaining scherzando, pairing the voices in octaves, with a fine Handelian climax where the sopranos hold long notes against the faster rhythms of the lower voices. The pictorialism of the last verse is quite as amusing as that of The Four Seasons: we hear the wicked gnashing their teeth and melting away (the tenor runs are none too clear at this point). Finally, he repeats the orchestral introduction for the doxology, adding voice-parts and finishing off with an exciting coda.

The recording is on the whole excellent... Stereo is used to provide directional echo effects in Beatus vir where Vivaldi must surely have intended no more than a drop in dynamic from the same players: it's not a work for two orchestras, and indeed one would be hard put to find another band to match the superb playing of the Virtuosi di Roma.

-- Gramophone [8/1967]
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Works on This Recording

Credo in E minor, RV 591 by Antonio Vivaldi
Conductor:  Renato Fasano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virtuosi di Roma,  Polyphonic Ensemble Of Rome
Period: Baroque 
Written: Venice, Italy 
Stabat Mater in F minor, RV 621 by Antonio Vivaldi
Performer:  Shirley Verrett (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Renato Fasano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virtuosi di Roma
Period: Baroque 
Written: Venice, Italy 
Beatus vir in C major, RV 597 by Antonio Vivaldi
Conductor:  Renato Fasano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virtuosi di Roma,  Polyphonic Ensemble Of Rome
Period: Baroque 
Written: Venice, Italy 

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