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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66829
Recording details: September 2001
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: August 2002
Total duration: 23 minutes 10 seconds

Laudate pueri, RV600
author of text
Psalm 112 (113)

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1739 the German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson observed admiringly: ‘Vivaldi, although no singer, has had the good sense to keep violinistic leaps out of his vocal compositions so completely that his arias have become a severe reproach to many an experienced composer for the voice’. This indeed becomes true in Vivaldi’s full maturity, but in his earliest vocal works, to which the present setting of the Vesper psalm Laudate pueri belongs, one feels that the composer is still finding his way: his word-setting is often untidy (the text fits the music, rather than the other way round), and from time to time a violinist’s imagination takes hold of the vocal line. Nevertheless, RV600 is a strong work, full of a dark-hued passion that sits uneasily with the predominantly joyful liturgical text. Unlike Vivaldi’s two later settings of the same text, it is in a minor key, C minor.

The paper type employed for Vivaldi’s autograph manuscript places RV600 in the years around 1715, close to the beginning of Vivaldi’s first period of sacred music composition. A copy was made in Venice by Balthasar Knapp, a musician in the service of count Stephan Kinsky. After Knapp’s return to Prague in early 1717, this manuscript passed to Johann Christoph Gayer, the Kapellmeister of the cathedral of St Vitus. After Gayer’s death in 1734 it was acquired by the Knights of the Cross, a military order, in whose archive it survives up to this very day.

Both the tonality and the scoring of the ten movements making up the work are organised almost palindromically. Between movements 1 and 5 the tonality proceeds ‘sharpwards’ from C minor, progressively shedding flats in the key signature, until it reaches A minor. It then retraces its steps back to the original key. Full scoring is reserved for the framing movements 1 and 9-10, plus (with united violin parts) movements 3, 5 and 7. Between these five ‘pillars’ different modes of reduced scoring occur.

The opening movement is influenced heavily by the ritornello form that Vivaldi was popularising all over Europe in his concertos. The canonic entries and unison ending of the ritornello provide a foretaste of this, but the clearest manifestation of concerto influence lies in the structure of the vocal part. Instead of being cast in the traditional two long sections, it is divided into five shorter ones that resemble the solo episodes in a concerto fast movement. Vivaldi takes care that the orchestra does not overpower the soprano (originally, a figlia di coro of the Pietà) by reducing the accompaniment in most places to continuo alone.

In the second movement, ‘Sit nomen Domini’, the bass instruments, and perforce the continuo, are silent. The parts preserved in Prague add bass figures to the viola part, implying continuo harmonisation, but this was evidently not Vivaldi’s own intention. In the third movement, ‘A solis ortu’, the composer depicts the rising and setting sun with zigzagging musical shapes. The fourth movement, ‘Excelsus super omnes’, is a rarity in Vivaldi’s sacred music: a movement for solo singer and continuo alone. In itself this scoring is enough to suggest an early date for RV600, since such ‘minimal’ accompaniments became very unfashionable (except in cantatas) after 1720.

The quickfire alternations between a high and a low register in the unison violin part of the fifth movement, ‘Quis sicut Dominus’, might seem a little overdone; but they are Vivaldi’s way of evoking the contrast of high and low conveyed (in two separate antitheses: altis/humilia and caelo/terra) by the text. Antithesis is likewise the key to understanding movement 6. Here, Vivaldi twice employs Presto upward sweeps for the act of raising up (‘suscitans’), a solemn Adagio for the mention of poverty (‘inopem’) and a winding, chromatically inflected Andante for the lifting of the needy (‘pauperem’) out of the dunghill.

Movement 7, ‘Ut collocet eum’, is similar in tempo and rhythmic style to the opening movement, but its B major cheerfulness and leaner texture lend it individuality. Most memorable of the movements is perhaps the eighth, ‘Gloria Patri’, in which a solo violin acts as wordless partner to the voice in music that is both intimate and deeply felt. This setting of the opening verse of the Doxology prefigures its magnificently sombre counterpart in the Nisi Dominus, RV608.

The ninth movement, a modified version of the first movement, takes advantage, in traditional manner, of the pun invited by the words ‘Sicut erat in principio’. It is followed by an elaborate ‘Amen’, rich in contrapuntal devices, that recalls the final movement of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater. In strict terms this is no fugue, but to the ear the effect is not dissimilar.

from notes by Michael Talbot © 2002

Other albums featuring this work
'Vivaldi: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44171/81)
Vivaldi: The Complete Sacred Music
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £40.00 CDS44171/81  11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
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