Handel • Vivaldi
Handel: Silete venti, HWV 242; Gloria; Salve Regina, HWV 241; Vivaldi: Nulla in mundo pax sincera
Grace Davidson (soprano); Academy of Ancient Music/Joseph Crouch
Signum Records SIGCD 537 76:11 mins
It was an astute bit of programming to end Grace Davidson’s debut solo album with Vivaldi. Segueing seamlessly out of three Latin motets by Handel, Nulla in mundo pax sincera points up just how intuitively the Italian style was assimilated into Handel’s own – firstly as a young man about Rome, then recollected in London tranquillity two decades on. By turns achingly lyrical and sprinkled with vocal fireworks, Handel’s motets present a winning showcase for a soprano such as Davidson, blessed with the ability to soar, to warm a note with artfully calculated vibrato, to phrase with impeccable taste, and possessed of a technical security that allows Silete venti’s formidable ‘Alleluia’ to pass in a dazzling flash of lightly worn pyrotechnics.
The motet’s opening command for the winds to be stilled suggests an Achilles heel, however, one that becomes ever more apparent as the disc unfolds. After the vigorously pointed, gusty instrumental counterpoint, the dramatic moment is lost; comfortable with the notes, Davidson does not engage with the words to the same degree, whether using their sounds to colour or their meaning to shade. And sidestepping Handel’s invitation to something more sensuously worldly, her ‘Dulcis amor’ is chaste enough for a Papal chapel – though the ‘Qui tollis’ from the Gloria that resurfaced as recently as 2001 is utterly ravishing. Joseph Crouch directs from the cello, and the playing never lacks for colour – the organ and cello obbligatos that explode out of the Salve Regina’s third section fairly fly! – but, perhaps dictated by the reverberant acoustic, the pacing occasionally sags.