The Great Venetian Mass
Sophie Karthaüser, Lucile Richardot; Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew
Harmonia Mundi HAF8905358 68:09 mins
Among Vivaldi’s various roles at the Pietà (a Venetian institution for orphaned or abandoned girls) was the annual composition of two settings of the Mass; it is something of a surprise, therefore, that not one has come down to us complete. The work presented here, then, is a reconstruction of a hypothetical Mass with Vivaldi’s famous Gloria as its centrepiece. Flanking it are the majestic double-choir Kyrie RV 587 and the rapt Credo RV 591. For the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei (no settings of which survive by Vivaldi) movements from his Beatus Vir RV 597, Dixit Dominus RV 807 and the Magnificat RV 610 have been convincingly adapted to the words of the Mass.
Immersing the Gloria in a quasi-sacred context like this transforms the work from a pop-Baroque concert piece to an expression of fervent devotion – as it was originally conceived. The whole is expressively shaped by Paul Agnew, whose supple moulding of the musical lines and vivid contrasts of tempos serve, above all, to highlight the words. Of the soloists, Sophie Karthäuser’s sensuous, silky and somewhat-too-tremulous soprano counterbalances Lucille Richardot’s androgynous, straight-toned mezzo; indeed, among the disc’s most hauntingly beautiful moments are Richardot’s solos in the Gloria and the Benedictus. The choir of Les Arts Florissants produces a warm, light, ingenuous sound, giving breathing space for Vivaldi’s orchestral colours and virtuosic instrumental writing. In sum, this is a poignant response to the pious nature of the texts, and a creative idea that sheds new light on some old favourites.