Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante; Gloria e Imeneo

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COMPOSERS: Vivaldi
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: La Senna festeggiante; Gloria e Imeneo
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Tuva Semmingsen, Hilary Summers (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass); The King’s Consort/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67361-62
Robert King and The King’s Consort have reached out beyond Vivaldi’s rich legacy of sacred vocal music to the serenata. Three such pieces by Vivaldi are known to us and King has chosen two of them. La Senna festeggiante (The River Seine ‘en fête’) is musically the more interesting of the two. It is scored for three voices and celebrates the French royal house of Bourbon during the early years of Louis XV’s reign. It probably dates from 1726 when it was perhaps performed in Venice on the feast of St Louis. The libretto is by Domenico Lalli, whom Vivaldi set on several occasions. The music possesses some French stylistic traits, most notably in the piece which introduces Part 2, an ‘ouverture’ in both name and character.

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Much of the vocal interest is invested in the bass role of La Senna, robustly sung by Andrew Foster-Williams. But the female roles offer many beguiling moments too, with sensitive responses from Carolyn Sampson and Hilary Summers. Three rival versions of the serenata – a form which lies somewhere between opera and dramatic cantata – exist, of which the oldest, directed by Claudio Scimone, is perhaps the most appealing. But King’s more style-conscious direction, his period instruments and his strong overall cast make the new recording my first choice. The other piece, Gloria e Imeneo, commemorating the wedding of Louis XV in 1725 and performed in Venice, is slighter and less interesting dramatically; but it contains some very attractive arias – ‘Al seren d’amica’ and ‘Ognor colmi’, which King takes uncomfortably fast, are two of loveliest – and the singing of Summers and Tuva Semmingsen affords constant pleasure. Two comparatively recent rival versions fall well short of the newcomer. Nicholas Anderson