Vivaldi: Juditha triumphans

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COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Juditha triumphans
PERFORMER: Magdalena Kožená, Maria José Trullu, Marina Comparato, Tiziana Carraro (mezzo-soprano), Anke Herrmann (soprano); Academy of Santa Cecilia Chamber Choir, Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro de Marchi
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-314
Two very different approaches to Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio, Juditha triumphans, have been released, almost simultaneously. Claudio Scimone, a long-standing champion and prolific performer of Vivaldi’s music, has assembled a mainly fine cast of soloists – only Laura Brioli fails to convince – but adopts a casual attitude to detail and seems, too often, to have loose control over his vocal and instrumental forces. The opening chorus, with its wayward ensemble, provides an early example. More disturbing, though, are occasional vocal transpositions at final cadences and Scimone’s fondness for grand opera flourishes. A pity for, as I say, most of his soloists are first-rate, and few readers will be disappointed either in Gloria Banditelli (Holofernes) or Cecilia Gasdia (Vagaus).

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By contrast with Scimone’s somewhat perfunctory performance with his orchestra, I Solisti Veneti, is Alessandro de Marchi’s more disciplined version, with its enlightened and practical approach to scholarship, its preference for period instruments and its more effective dramatic pacing. And, with its respect for Vivaldi’s intention that women’s voices be used throughout, in arias and choruses, alike, it is certainly the more historically truthful of the two. Magdalena Kozená (Judith) and Anke Herrmann (Judith’s maidservant, Abra) are ideally cast, each able to convey by subtle inflection, sometimes fragile, sometimes bold, the fearful nature of their mission. Kozená’s keenest rivals in the title role, one of Vivaldi’s finest, are Birgit Finnilä (Philips) and Oralia Dominguez (Sarx), whose fine characterisation perhaps still remains unsurpassed. Marchi accommodates the rich expressive vocabulary of Vivaldi’s music with greater generosity than Scimone, whose tempi do not always realise its affective potential. Taking all matters into account, Marchi’s version, though to my ears occasionally a little too long-winded, offers the strongest performance to date; but seek out Dominguez if you can find her. She is well worth hearing. Nicholas Anderson