VIVALDI: Sacred Music 2

And with the
second volume in this complete series from Naxos, the Canadian Aradia Ensemble
under the direction of Kevin Mallon, with soprano Tracy Smith Bessette and
contralto Marion Newman present a cohesive program of solo works.

Some of the music is sublime: the opening stanza of the Stabat Mater,
for instance, with its expressive use of chromaticism, augmented-sixth
harmony, and sumptious sequences is memorable by any standards. Other works,
by contrast, fail the memorability test–the ìAlleluiaî to ìCanta in prato,,î
for instance, never rises above the pedestrian–but in a recording of the
complete sacred works, the mighty must be taken along with the meek.

The performances, like the music itself, are also uneven. Both soloists
execute Vivaldiís florid writingówriting that Denis Arnold long ago aptly
likened to Vivaldiís violinistic passage workówith confidence, although the
vibrancy and fullness of their tones makes it seem like hard work. Smith
Bessetteís gentler passages, like the ìSit nomenî from ìLaudate pueriî are
more successful, for here she can bring her attractive warmth of sound to the
fore. Elsewhere the extent of her vibrato creates stylistic issues,
particularly where the vibrato on weak syllables in a ìstrong-weakî pattern
subverts the rhythmic contour, as in the ìExcelsus superî in ìLaudate pueri.î

Newmanís tone is beautifully rich. However, the richness occasionally detracts
from the contours of Vivaldiís sinewy lines, as in the opening of ìStabat
Mater.î For many, I suspect, the touchstone performance of the ìStabat Materî
remains James Bowmanís with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient
Musick (LíOiseau-Lyre 414 329 2), a performance difficult to rival in terms of
sheer sonic beauty. In referencing the earlier recording an important contrast
emerges: that between female alto and male countertenor. Generalizations are
both difficult and unwiseófalsettists and ìcontraltosî come in all sizes and
shapes and make a wide variety of sounds. In this particular case, however,
the contrast is between a rich female timbre, sometimes in an awkwardly low
register, and a highly focused, lean, vowel-rich falsetto sound. The clarity
of the line and its contours seem advantageously served by the latter.

The Aradia Ensemble is an orchestra that plays with a fine sense of historical
style. However, too often here one seems to want more . . . more
rhythmic exhilaration in those passages of typical Vivaldi drive, and more
extravagant tone in sensuous passages. In the final reckoning this is a
recording perhaps more welcome for presenting the repertory than for the
actual renditions themselves. The performances are competent and more,
certainly, but rarely are they distinctively compelling.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Antonio Vivaldi: Sacred Music 2.
product_title=Antonio Vivaldi: Sacred Music 2.
Laudate pueri Dominum, RV 600; Stabat Mater, RV 621; Canta in prato, ride in monte, RV 623; Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625.
product_by=Tracy Smith Bessette, soprano; Marion Newman, contralto; Aradia Ensemble; Kevin Mallon, Director.
product_id=Naxos 8.557852 [CD]