Review: Vivaldi | Gloria

David Barmby

A new all-Vivaldi release that combines two remarkable soloists.
Review: Vivaldi | Gloria

Album cover image via DECCA.

Two soloists who have greatly impressed in newly released recordings are Russian star in the making, coloratura mezzo-soprano Julia Lezhneva, displaying remarkable vocal gifts and the Argentinian falsettist Franco Fagioli who astonishes for his dexterity, unusually wide range and rich sonorous quality.

On this recent Decca release both voices join forces in a very fine recording of Vivaldi’s perennial favourite Gloria, RV 589 along with his setting of Psalm 127 Nisi Dominus RV 608 composed to be sung during Vespers for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and finally the solo motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera (In this world there is no honest peace), RV 630.  The Lugano-based specialist ensembles I Barocchisti and Coro della Radiotelevisione svissera (Swiss Radio Choir) are conducted by their Swiss musical director and organist, Diego Fasolis.  This instrumental ensemble, choir and director were entirely unknown to me, though on hearing them I am seriously impressed.

It was the English Handel who commented that after hearing operas in Europe by lesser-known composers he was able to ‘polish [their] stones into diamonds’.  The authorship of much of Vivaldi’s Gloria, RV 589 is debatable, yet the score, unearthed in 1926 in a sale of Salesian monastic manuscripts owned by the Collegio San Carlo in Monferrato, Piedmont near Turin after being entirely ignored for over 150 years, is now regarded without question as one of the most popular instrumental and vocal compositions of the Baroque.  Known as the ‘Red Priest’ because of his striking hair colour, from 1703 the ordained Antonio Vivaldi held the position of maestro di violino of the Venetian Pio Ospedale della Pietà, responsible for the musical instruction of its resident foundling girls.  This institution’s choir of sopranos and altos was known to be outstanding.

Vivaldi’s music always impresses for its directness, clarity and simplicity.  The Gloria is no exception, with uncomplicated word setting, effective harmonic colouring and straight-forward melodic contour. There could be nothing simpler than the work’s opening with its octave-leaping, unison-scalic accompaniment and clear-cut homogenous exposition of text.  A nice pace is established for the opening and phrasing is finely shaped.  The vocal ensemble is unfortunately recorded as secondary to the instrumental though quality can be discerned, if somewhat distantly.  The excellent unnamed theorbist’s craft surfaces thereafter in a lovely, lilting reading of the spacious and luminous Et in terra pax (And on earth peace).  The soprano duet Laudamus te (We praise you) is the highlight of the recording, with both soloists entwined in a rich and expressive tapestry.  Truly astounding virtuosity and vocal quality is in evidence here with both seeming to outdo each other’s ornamentation and perfect trill technique.  Domine Fili explores the loveliness of solo oboe with the once again delightfully rich improvisatory skills of the theorbist.  The impassioned Domine Deus (Fagioli) is very moving, particularly at the words miserere nobis.  Finally, Qui sedes (Who sits at the right hand of the Father) thrills with Fagioli’s passionate vocal excitement once again to the fore.

Nisi Dominus further demonstrates Fagioli’s expressivity and vocal agility while Cum dederit dilectis suis somnun (For he gives his beloved sleep) reassuringly comforts.  The Gloria Patri features a marvellous viola d’amore solo, an instrument that Vivaldi was known to have mastered.

But it is Julia Lezhneva’s utterly delightful reading of Nulla in mundo pax sincera that takes the prize for its openness and verdant freshness despite the tragic sentiment of its text.  Lezhneva’s da capo ornamentation again is a sheer joy to experience.  The ebullient final aria Spirat anguis has an amazing final setting of Alleluia.

In sum, this is a recording to own for the soloists alone, though it provides many other joys.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Vivaldi Gloria

I Barocchisti

Coro della Radiotelevisione svissera

Diego Fasolis

Released 23 March

Decca 4833874

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.