Vivaldi: Stabat mater, RV 621; Nisi Dominus, RV 608; Longe mala, umbrae, terrores, RV 629

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COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Stabat mater, RV 621; Nisi Dominus, RV 608; Longe mala, umbrae, terrores, RV 629
PERFORMER: David Daniels (countertenor); Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin, viola d’amore)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45474 2

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David Daniels’s latest disc features three of Vivaldi’s sacred works for solo voice: Stabat mater (1712), Nisi Dominus (1717) and the motet Longe mala, umbrae, terrores (1725). The first two are among the composer’s loveliest and most-lauded pieces. HC Robbins Landon, for example, has written of the Stabat’s ‘extraordinary sense of spirituality and profound sadness’, and described ‘Gloria Patri’ (from Nisi Dominus), where the voice is shadowed by viola d’amore, as ‘like some marvellous dream, a trance of beauty’. Longe mala, if less well known, is hardly less exquisite. Its first verse, evoking the world’s ills, requires a highly agile virtuosity; in the second, the singer entreats God’s blessing in music of subtle, consoling allure. The dramatic rise in popularity of Vivaldi’s sacred music owes much to the contemporaneous popularity of the countertenor voice. Robin Blaze, James Bowman, Michael Chance, Jochen Kowalski, Gérard Lesne, Christopher Robson and Andreas Scholl have all recorded one or more of these works — and Scholl’s delicately sensuous accounts of the Stabat mater (Harmonia Mundi) and Nisi Dominus (Decca) are truly outstanding. Daniels, too, sings them superbly, his voice full, smooth and precisely focused where Scholl is soft-grained and expansive. I still prefer Scholl’s sound, but Daniels’s disc also boasts Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, who liven up the music like a fresh breeze, bringing colour and panache to works that are sometimes played with an air of hushed piety. Biondi’s inventive violin flourishes, with their tang of period asperity, are the perfect counterpart to Daniels’s rich flow. Graham Lock