Vivaldi: A Tale of Two Seasons
This attractive programme is pegged on the two Venetian opera seasons of 1717 and 1733, when Vivaldi presented his public with L’Incoronazione di Dario and Motezuma, respectively. It’s music from these two operas – the first of which is set in 5th-century Persia, the second of which explores the Spanish conquest of Mexico – and from Arsilda, revised and revived in 1717, that provides a focal point for the recording. The disc also features three of the composer’s Violin Concertos, rich in theatrical gesture, which have at least conjectural association with his activities in the whirlpool of Venetian opera. Vivaldi’s music for the stage has been acquiring an increasingly high profile over the past decade with opera productions in London and Buxton, where Adrian Chandler himself has directed performances, and at Garsington Opera, which has staged three of the Venetian master’s works over the past six years. This thoughtfully constructed recording, like several of Chandler’s previous releases, presents us with both sides of the Vivaldi coin, vocal and instrumental, from which we can often hear a close thematic relationship between the two.
All five of the arias are for mezzo-soprano and are sung with stylistic fluency by Sally Bruce-Payne. Vivaldi’s music calls for a wide range of emotional responses and Bruce-Payne embraces them with commendable expressive fervour. While her coloratura is impeccable – take for instance her characterisation of the scheming Argene in an aria from Arsilda – it is perhaps in more tenderly expressed sentiments such as Statira’s pastorally inspired ‘Sentiro frà ramo’ from L’Incoronazione di Dario that her sensibilities and warmly coloured vocal timbre are heard to strongest advantage.
Chandler, who is both founder and director of La Serenissima, is soloist in the concertos, one of which, Grosso Mogul, is a generously proportioned piece requiring virtuosity, above all in the cadenzas which survive in his chosen source. The exotic title is something of a puzzle. The music has no discernible associations either with Indian music or her Mogul emperors. Perhaps Vivaldi played it as an interlude between the acts of a lost opera set in India. Chandler’s playing is crisply articulated, tonally secure and imaginative, and the lively responses of the instrumentalists of La Serenissima give uninterrupted pleasure. These are musicians who quite simply love their Vivaldi and their spirit is contagious. Clear and ideally resonant recorded sound and informative notes set the seal on one of the strongest releases in the series so far.