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Hyperion Records

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Judith with the head of Holofernes (1615) by Carlo Saraceni (c1580-1620)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67281/2
Recording details: October 1997
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: April 1998
Total duration: 147 minutes 53 seconds

'A stunning cast, orchestra and choir' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A wonderful piece of dramatic music that receives superb treatment at the hands of The King's Consort and soloists. An absolutely vital release and one of the best recordings I've heard this year' (American Record Guide)

'Lyricism in abundance and some truly extraordinary scoring. Robert King's direction revels in such novelties and he has a skillful team of players to realise the ravishing beauties of the score' (The Times)

'Although it comes as Vol IV of King's projected complete recording of Vivaldi's sacred music, this allegorical oratorio—Judith's murder of Holofernes representing Venice's triumph over the Ottoman hordes—seems to belong to the opera house rather than the church. Vivaldi wrote it in 1716 for the youthful female virtuosi of the Ospedal della Pieta: the vocal writing requires both astonishing agility and rare intensity; and he asks for an extravagant instrumentarium, including clarinets, a chalumeau, mandolin and violas 'all' inglese'. The choruses that open and close the oratorio and punctuate the sequence of glorious arias have a thrilling martial éclat. The soloists are wonderful: Ann Murray's Judith, beguiling and brilliant, marks her return to form, and her bright mezzo contrasts well with the velvet alto of Susan Bickley as Holofernes. Maria Cristina Kiehr—in the only soprano role, Vagaus—gets the lion's share of the bravura numbers and sings them superlatively well. Another revelatory issue from Hyperion' (The Sunday Times)

'Hugely enjoyable … excellent soloists…masterly recording' (Classic CD)

'Magnificent. Unquestionably a masterpiece that bridles with invention from start to finish. A feat of supreme singing and intensely dramatic projection. Superlative recorded sound that in its combination of warmth, depth and immediacy, conveys the supeme quality of the performance with devastating Impact. This is not only the finest recording I've encountered this year, but one of the great recordings of the decade. There is no justice if it does not pick up awards galore' (Fanfare, USA)

Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernes barbarie, RV644
1716; first performed at the PietÓ in Venice
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFranšaisDeutsch
After the Overture, adapted from the opening two movements of Vivaldi’s colourfully-scored Concerto RV555, the Assyrians are in warlike mood in their opening chorus, accompanied by militaristic trumpet calls and ‘Timpanico Bellico’. Holofernes proudly announces to his troops that today will be the day of victory and, in the aria ‘Nil arma, nil bella’, encourages his soldiers to be steadfast in battle. Holofernes’ steward Vagaus tells his master that he has good news: in the gloriously melodic aria ‘Matrona inimica’ he says that not only is a noble lady of the enemy Judeans seeking an audience, but that she is also exceptionally beautiful. Holofernes commands that she be brought to him; Vagaus remains dazzled by the visitor’s looks.

Judith’s first aria, accompanied only by violins and continuo, is suitably demure as she prays that heaven will lead her safely through the scenes of conflict that surround her. Her servant Abra, throughout the oratorio a tower of strength to her mistress, encourages Judith to trust in God. Abra’s first aria, ‘Vultus tui vago splendori’, is accompanied only by continuo, signifying that she is a person of lower rank. She points out to Judith that the Assyrian soldiers, though prepared for war, are also struck by her beauty. Judith does not want to waste time and demands to be brought immediately to Holofernes. Vagaus and the Assyrian soldiers sing a lyrical movement—with oboes added to the string texture—in which they see Judith’s beauty as a portent of victory.

Vagaus points out Holofernes to Judith, urging her to trust him. In the busy ‘Quamvis ferro’ he outlines the two sides of Holofernes: one warlike, the other gentle. Judith is ushered into Holofernes’ presence; he is immediately smitten by her radiant beauty. Judith, rather more formally, beseeches him to grant peace to Bethulia. In ‘Quanto magis generosa’ her plea is accompanied by the first of the exotic instrumental combinations which dominate the oratorio: Judith’s gentle aria is coloured by viola d’amore and two solo violins, using ‘piombi’ (lead mutes). Faced with such beauty, Holofernes cannot refuse. He tells Judith to sit (‘Sede, o cara’) and then invites her to dine with him. She coyly accepts but explains that she is unfamiliar with such a rich lifestyle. In the vigorous ‘Agitata infido flatu’ she describes a swallow, frantically countering the battering of howling winds—graphically illustrated in the string writing—and then briefly forgetting its woes as it rejoices in a moment of calm.

Holofernes commands Vagaus to prepare the most lavish of banquets. The busy preparations are illustrated by the characterful sound of four solo theorbos and a single harpsichord as the servants rush around preparing the feast (‘O servi, volate’). Abra points out that Vagaus talks very grandly for a servant and then, perhaps sensing that Judith is nervous at the events to come, reassures her mistress that she will remain loyal. Judith responds with a ravishing aria, ‘Veni, veni’, in which a solo chalumeau, accompanied by gentle, muted string semiquavers, represents a lamenting turtle-dove. Abra tells Judith to remain steadfast: in ‘Fulgeat sol’ she not only reinforces that sentiment but also suggests that Judith should use any means necessary to advance their cause. Part One ends with the Bethulians, in the distance (Vivaldi gives the dynamic as ‘pianissimo sempre’), praying that Judith will defeat Holofernes.

Part Two opens with Ozias the High Priest predicting the downfall of Holofernes. He calls, in the dramatically dotted ‘O Sydera’, for the destruction of Judah’s godless enemy. In an especially beautiful recitative Holofernes sings of the setting of the sun, and in the darkly-coloured, rocking ‘Nox obscura’ is oblivious to the ironies of his own text when he sings about the dawn of day and Judith’s glory. Holofernes again praises Judith’s beauty; she counters that beauty is transient. In ‘Transit aetas’ she sings of the brevity of life and that mankind is often the bringer of his own downfall. She is accompanied by the slightest of accompaniments—a solo mandolin and unison violins. Holofernes is again oblivious of the ironies here, and expresses his passion for Judith. She tells him to temper his ardour, but in the amorous ‘Noli, o cara’, accompanied by solo organ and seductive oboe, he pleads with her not to spurn his advances. Judith counters by asking for the gift of salvation. Holofernes drinks to this, and the chorus celebrates the couple’s love, their toasts accompanied by the charmingly rustic colour of two ‘claren’ (clarinets).

Holofernes continues to toast Judith, who responds with a hypnotic, siciliano-like lullaby ‘Vivat in pace’, played on lead-muted violins and violas. By the end, Holofernes has fallen asleep, lulled by both wine and Judith’s singing. Judith calls for Vagaus and her own servant. Vagaus prays that the shades and soft winds will watch over his master; ‘Umbrae carae’ is one of the jewels of the oratorio, with two recorders floating their sounds over the strings. Vagaus tells Judith that she is fortunate to have conquered such a strong man while Judith states that it is God who has done so. Vagaus clears up the feast, then leaves Judith and Abra together. Outside the tent, Abra wishes her mistress good luck; Judith goes inside, and commands that the door be closed. In the vigorously rhythmic ‘Non ita reducem’ Abra anxiously awaits Judith’s return.

Judith appeals to God for strength, and Vivaldi calls on the most other-worldly of all orchestral colours: five viole all’inglese, underpinned by a violone and two theorbos. Their exotic sound when played in consort produces an extraordinary harmonic web which accompanies first Judith’s magnificent accompagnato ‘Summe Astrorum’ and then the equally extraordinary aria ‘In somno profundo’.

Holofernes’ sword is hanging by his bed. Judith takes it and, accompanied now by the full strings in a moment of great drama, decapitates the sleeping general. Judith summons Abra and places the bloody, severed head in her bag. For a fleeting moment Abra’s confidence deserts her, but she quickly recovers, tells her mistress to go quickly, and praises God in the gloriously lilting aria ‘Si fulgida’.

Early next morning Vagaus returns, sees the tent open, no one around and then discovers the blood-spattered scene. He calls soldiers, realizes that all is lost, and cries for vengeance. His aria ‘Armatae face’ is another first-rate, splendidly dramatic movement as he calls on the Furies to avenge the slaughter.

The scene moves to Bethulia, where the high priest Ozias sees Judith returning in the distance. In the sprightly ‘Gaude felix’ he calls on Bethulia to rejoice in its new-found freedom. In the final accompagnato he calls on the daughters of Sion to celebrate their victory, drawing an allegory with Venice. In the closing chorus the Judeans do so, hailing the power of ‘Adria’ (Venice) and, with trumpets and timpani finally returned to the orchestra, praising Judith triumphant.

from notes by Robert King ę 1998

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)  
'The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2' (HYP20)
The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2
This album is not yet available for download HYP20  2CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  
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