Artists and composer on top form
Jim Shine | Dublin, Ireland | 02/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Stabat mater is the earliest known of Vivaldi's sacred vocal works; it was first performed in 1712, a year after the publication of his "L'estro armonico" collection of violin concertos. This medieval Latin poem describing Christ's mother at the foot of the cross has been set many times over the centuries, and in fact Vivaldi only uses half of the verses, leaving out most of the "let me feel your pain" sections - thus it's a far more dramatic than reflective work. The music for the first 4 verses is essentially repeated for the next four, but with a darker hue; this is followed by 2 more verses of a more optimistic nature, and an Amen that to me sounds a little tacked-on. Marie-Nicole Lemieux seems perfect as the soloist, with a contralto voice that sounds appropriately motherly, becoming impassioned as needed but also singing the dark, low notes in a way that strikes the heart. In the liner notes conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi remarks on how she makes the music sound like a lullaby. The music throughout is appropriate - listen, for example, to the stabbing strings under "Pertransivit gladius". (As an aside, am I the only person who thinks that the standard English translation, the Victorian one, scans a little too like Poe's Raven to be taken seriously? "At the cross her station keeping/Stood the mournful mother, weeping...")
The Nisi Dominus ("Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it") is less immediately dramatic in terms of subject matter and can be considered more of a showpiece. The showman is Philippe Jaroussky, who hopefully needs no introduction. I first heard him sing, on his "Vivaldi heroes" album, at a time when I'd be listening to quite a bit of Andreas Scholl, and Jaroussky first struck me as "weird" - his voice is much creamier and more feminine, and just doesn't sound like falsetto. It's a magnificent sound. The outstanding highlight in the Nisi Dominus is the fourth section, "Cum dederit". Again to quote Spinosi, the principle is one of "motionless movement" - that sort of stillness you get on Venetian evenings as a boat glides slowly through calm waters. As played and sung here, this is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music you'll hear.
What you might call the encore piece is actually sandwiched between the other two, the Crucifixus movement from a Credo that might not be by Vivaldi. It's an opportunity for Jaroussky and Lemieux to sing together. It's like a condensed version of Pergolesi's Stabat mater, really.
I love this disc: 2 great baroque singers on top form, backed wonderfully. For many people, of course, the name of Jaroussky is enough of a recommendation but I would say that Lemieux's Stabat mater is an even better reason to buy it. She's recorded it before, with Tafelmusik for the Analekta label, but from the short clips I've heard this new version seems to be the one to go for. One thing I should point out is that Naive fails to mention the disc's timing on the cover: a mere 42 minutes. Ordinarily I would complain but small quantity is more than made up for with quality."
Not just the usual Vivaldi
F. A. Harrington | Boston MA | 04/22/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I admit it. I used to be one of those people who would say "Vivaldi - oh yes, he just wrote the same concerto 300 times" or even "he just wrote the same half a concerto 600 times". And it is true that there have been far too many half-hearted or perfunctory performances presented in too many elevators and hotel lobbies as a symbol of propriety and superficial sophistication to maintain the freshness of his most popular works. But in the right hands and mindset works like the Four SeasonsVivaldi: The Four Seasons and the concerto for two mandolinsRodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez; Concierto Andaluz; Vivaldi: Guitar Concertos et al prove that they deserve the familiarity they've sustained for 300 odd years.
And then of course there is Vivaldi's opera and vocal music to consider as well. While the Gloria enjoys an ubiquity almost on par with the Four Seasons, there is a whole array of sacred and stage music out there awaiting discovery. This disc is a fine place to start.
Nisi Dominus is a setting of Psalm 126 (plus the "Glory Be') from 1703. It begins with a robust minor-key movement and continues alternating fast and slow movements. A particular highlight is fourth track (which begins with the words "Cum dederit dilectis suis somnun" (for so He giveth His beloved sleep). Slow pulsations in the strings (much like in the "Winter" concerto) give way to a calm that will make you want to stay in bed all day. Track seven features a lovely duet for counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky and conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi on viola d'amour which typifies the solemnity and beauty of the piece. Or course Vivaldi is not so solemn that he can resist bringing back the opening theme for the phrase "sicut erat in principo" (as it was in the beginning...).
Jaroussky sings with a strong clear voice which has a feminine quality, lacking the sort of warmth and resonance of say, David Daniels; more soprano than alto. (I say this not as a criticism but merely a distinction.) It balances well with the contralto of Marie-Nicole Lemieux in the brief duet from the Credo in A which separates the two major works. One wishes there was more of it. (There's certainly room for it, the disc clocks in at a measly 45 minutes or so.)
The Stabat Mater from 1712 begins with music which sounds to me like a forerunner of some of Mozart's more lachrymose moments some 75 years later. This is not to say all the elements of Vivaldi's style are not here, for they are, but those elements exist in a depth of expression and dramatic skill you're not apt to notice while you're on hold. Lemieux richly conveys the pathos of the grieving mother of Christ, especially in the section beginning with the words "Eja Mater, fons amoris". I first encountered her dark rich voice in Vivaldi's opera Tito ManlioVivaldi - Tito Manlio (a discovery in itself if only just for Act III) and am glad to encounter it again.
Besides the short playing time I have a couple of other quibbles. One is that the consistently fine playing of the Ensemble Matheus is a bit buried in the mix throughout. The other is the terrible translation of the Stabat Mater printed in the booklet. My rudimentary Latin skills find more poetry in the original than in the antiquated doggerel translation included here, which also doesn't jump ahead with Vivaldi, including verses which aren't set and omitting some that are. Neither of these matter much when the music making is of this high caliber.
Crystal Countertenor and Sensual Contralto
Miz Ellen | Bovine Universe | 09/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These people are a team experienced in making beautiful music together, and it shows.
Director Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, mezzo soprano
gave a series of celebrated concerts of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso in 2003 which got rave reviews. Listening to this CD, one realizes that Vivaldi was an incredible composer and a priest who happened to compose operas. The loveliness of the violin passages where the voices of the singer float above, the rich sensual abandon of Lemieux's voice as she sings the Virgin's lament, the crystal clarity of Jaroussky, the counterpoint as their two voices play off of one another--all this makes for an album I strongly recommend to people who think the only thing that Vivaldi wrote was "The Four Seasons". This will blow your socks off."