Vivaldi: Nisi Dominus ; Stabat Mater - Philippe Jaroussky, Marie-Nicole Lemieux / Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Antonio Vivaldi's probably early Nisi Dominus, RV 608, and Stabat Mater, RV 621, both for solo voice and ensemble, have received several top-notch recordings, so the listener can pick on the basis of voice type and stylistic preference. Countertenor David Daniels has essayed the pair with Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante ensemble, and you can hear the preternaturally rich contralto Sara Mingardo in a reading with the fiery Italian Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini. Here you get a countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, in the Nisi Dominus and a female contralto, Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in the Stabat Mater. The pairing robs the whole of unity at one level, but makes musical sense; the Nisi Dominus is a more athletic work that benefits from the power of the male voice, while the Stabat Mater, especially in Vivaldi's truncated and highly dramatic setting, may require the audience to identify with a female singer. In the event, Jaroussky is nothing short of sublime in slow sections like the "Cum dederit" (track 4), a masterpiece of quiet tension whose effects are amplified by the extreme, almost respiratory sensitivity of the Ensemble Matheus under director Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Hardly less effective is Lemieux, with an extremely emotional reading in which she seems to mean every word. A bonus on this disc not present on the others is a little Crucifixus from the Credo in G major, RV 592, featuring both singers and well placed in the middle of the program. Superb examples of Baroque vocal art all around, with sound that captures the subtlety and the full dynamic range of the music, which at times gets very hushed indeed.
Jaroussky - Lemieux
Vivaldi,Spinosi,Lemieux,Jaroussky: four names inextricably linked in music-lovers' minds ever since a certain Orlando furiosocreated a furore in concert halls across Europe in 2003.
After Orlando,La fida ninfa,and the many concerts the three artists have given together,this recording of the two most famous sacred works of the Prete Rossowas an obvious and unquestioned next step.
From the singers' point of view, there is perfect unison:'Ever since our names began to be associated with Vivaldi's music,it's been inevitable we would do this project' (Marie-Nicole Lemieux).'This CD is a natural development: we were all really keen to make it and we'd been talking about it for a long time' (Philippe Jaroussky).
And the conductor Spinosi chips in:'Quite sincerely,I never wondered if I could record it with other singers.The only question I suppose I might have asked myself was how the programme would have worked with Philippe in theStabat Mater and Marie-Nicole in theNisi Dominus.I honestly think we did things the right way round.
Both of them can be great interpreters of either work.'
The soloists' comments on each other's work offer ready confirmation.'When I listen to Philippe,I hear someone I admire immensely but who is completely different from me',says Marie-Nicole Lemieux.'In theNisi Dominus,I like it so much,my ears are musically so happy that I don't feel any desire to appropriate for myself what he's singing.
It's a more ethereal kind of music than theStabat Mater.The "Gloria Patri", especially, with its viola d'amore solo, brings out the most beautiful sonorities and colours in his voice.It's a very agile,very pure voice,with an incredible radiance.' And Philippe Jaroussky returns the compliment:'I had the same impression as soon as I heard Marie-Nicole record the first movement of the Stabat Mater.
It's a work that's better suited to the contralto voice in general and to Marie-Nicole's in particular.
Its blend of sensuality,drama and emotional abandon is perfect for her.She's not only a great singer,she's also exceptionally good at projecting the text,which gives her the ability to change her interpretation constantly according to the needs of the specific word she's singing.That's a huge asset in a work whose atmosphere remains dramatic throughout, with music that returns in cyclic fashion.
I think this is the first time two different singers have performed these two works on the same CD, and that's something that can shed light on the fundamental difference between the scores.'
Jean-Christophe Spinosi is still visibly moved as he recalls this performance of the Stabat Mater:'There are two ways of approaching theStabat:you can aim for a stylised representation of sorrow,which encourages contemplation of the music and a prayerful attitude; or you can try really to convey a mother's grief. Marie-Nicole sang the Stabat Mater like a mother,a mother lamenting the most terrible thing in the world the loss of a child.
She really embodies the words; she lives them.When she sings "dum pendebat filius",if you listen carefully to the music without knowing the words, you get the impression that it's a lullaby, that the mother is cradling her child in her arms for the last time. It's pretty amazing.' He is similarly eloquent in praise of his favourite countertenor, notably when discussing the celebrated 'Cum dederit', the nerve centre of the Nisi Dominus:'The "Cum dederit"uses a principle I call "motionless movement",which I think is very Venetian.
It reminds me of evenings in Venice, when nothing is moving on the canals any more.When you push a boat out, it does make headway, but you get the impression that there's no movement, because the water is so calm.There's a dreamlike element here,as well as a purely aquatic one. In order to achieve this "motionless movement",I thought at the last minute that we should slow the tempo down even further.And what is extraordinary is that Philippe could have said:"That's not the way we usually do it.
"But,on the contrary,he fitted into the new tempo straight away.That was a moment of great intensity!'
Spinosi's affection for his two soloists is patent and reciprocated.Philippe Jaroussky: 'Jean-Christophe is perpetually in search of possibilities for exchange between soloist and orchestra.When we work together,everyone is always receptive to any pertinent suggestion,whether it comes from Jean-Christophe,from me,or from the orchestra. The discussion is always open, without taboos, without personal pride. JeanChristophe's other great strength is that he is always concerned to bring out the best in a work,to show it in the most flattering light.
This is something that obsesses him: he wants the right colour and the right tempo for each piece of music.' Marie-Nicole Lemieux is also particularly fond of this constant exchange:'The wonderful thing is that Jean-Christophe is always full of surprises.In Vivaldi's concertos or Orlando furioso, you see him as an explosive sort of musician. But he also has a tender side to him, which in fact comes out in Orlando too.The ensemble can play as if on a single bow hair and produce an incredibly gentle sound.Jean-Christophe kept within a very religious discretion to express spirituality and maternal love.
He and the orchestra succeeded in finding a truly special tone-colour for the Stabat Mater,just as they had in the Nisi Dominus.'
One cannot imagine a better way of explaining why this recording will occupy a place all its own in the catalogue.
In Vivaldi's Venice,as was the case all over Italy in the first half of the Settecento,the function of religious music was as much cultural as liturgical.In this age of unbridled musical consumption,attendance at the Office took over where chamber concerts and evenings at the theatre left off.The church pew hobnobbed with the opera box.
This craze gave rise to veritable commercial competition among churches,institutions and congregations, who sought to entice the biggest possible audience into their precincts in order to milk their musical success for the maximum in donations and patronage.
In Venice, the growing interest in what had become nothing short of religious entertainment even prompted the publisher Antonio Groppo to issue,in 1752, a guide to the vesper celebrations offered all year long by the four Ospedali grandi, charitable institutions renowned for the exceptional standard of their orchestras.
As a celebrated composer of instrumental music and operas,Vivaldi naturally received commissions for sacred music throughout his career.The earliest that can be traced, for the Stabat Mater RV 621,came from the Oratorians of Brescia.The work's first performance took place in the Congregation's church,consecrated to Santa Maria della Pace,at the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 18 March 1712. The austerity of this piece in F minor,supported by minimalist orchestration,admirably demonstrates the singularity of the nascent sacred language of the priest-musician, whose faith was to find in musical composition an ideal means of expression.
Shortly afterwards,Vivaldi obtained his first commissions for sacred music from the Ospedale della Piet? in Venice,where he had been employed as a violin teacher since 1703.It was for this prestigious institution that he composed the Nisi Dominus RV 608 for contralto, which probably went on to receive performances outside the walls of the Piet?.This inspired setting of Psalm 126, mingling gripping drama and profound spirituality,illustrated both the maturation of Vivaldi's vocal style and the refinement of his writing for string orchestra.
Vivaldi's reputation as a composer of sacred music soon spread outside Italy, and several of his works circulated in Europe.His name appears,notably,on a number of manuscripts preserved in Poland,including that of the CredoRV 592 which is now in Warsaw. However, the possibility cannot be excluded that his famous signature was wrongly associated with this piece,whose Neapolitan style,particularly evident in the galant 'Crucifixus',recalls the language of Pergolesi rather than Vivaldi.
A priest-musician who no longer celebrated Mass,an impresario who invoked the judgment of God in his legal disputes,an opera composer who worked breviary in hand, Vivaldi tried all his life to reconcile his 'furie de composition prodigieuse' (as Charles de Brosses put it) with the demands of his clerical status and his faith.Alongside so many other admirable religious pieces,his Stabat Mater and Nisi Dominus for contralto suggest that,midway between the altar and the music-stand,this sublime painter of the human soul may have found in sacred composition the point of equilibrium for his personal paradoxes.
All Music Guide