Movement 1: Laudate pueri Dominum
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joanne Lunn (soprano), King's Consort Choir, The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Movement 2: A solis ortu
Movement 3: Excelsus super omnes
Movement 4: Sit nomen Domini
Movement 5: Suscitans a terra
Movement 6: Ut collocet eum
Movement 7: Sit nomen Domini
Movement 8: Gloria Patri
Movement 9: Sicut erat in principio
The relationship between the two solo sopranos, in the movements where both sing, resembles that of the two solo violins in a ‘double’ concerto by Vivaldi. Much of the time, they respond to each other in dialogue fashion, but they occasionally come together to perform chains of thirds reminiscent of a love duet and even engage, at climactic moments, in brief snatches of imitative counterpoint. Vivaldi is scrupulously even-handed in his allocation of material to the two sopranos, and this equality reflects the (for the time) remarkably democratic régime at the Pietà, where the governors went to great lengths to foster an egalitarian spirit among the foundlings and, especially, the members of the coro.
This is a setting on a grand scale, in which the norm is that each verse of the psalm becomes a separate movement. To unify the work, Vivaldi resorts to the old device (used also in his setting of the Beatus vir, RV597, and in its later variant RV795) of treating a verse taken from the opening part of the psalm as a refrain. In the case of RV602, this is the second verse, the one that blesses the name of the Lord for evermore. The reason why Vivaldi did not choose the equally suitable first verse for this purpose is probably that he wanted the refrain to be choral. In the extended first movement, which includes the text of the first two verses, verse 1 is reserved for the solo sopranos, leaving the choir to enter with the music for verse 2, the first statement of the refrain, towards the end. This movement sets the tone for the whole work in its brightness and diatonic innocence.
Verse 3, with its reference to the rising and going down of the sun, provides the composer with a perfect opportunity to show his powers of word-painting, using a rising figure to denote ascent (the rhetorical figure called anabasis) and a falling one for the balancing descent (katabasis). Vivaldi does this in a more extravagant and leisurely way than most of his contemporaries attempted. The whole movement becomes, in fact, a fascinating game of ups and downs. The third movement, ‘Excelsus super omnes’, is the emotional heart of the work. In the uncommon key of F sharp minor, Vivaldi adopts the tempo and rhythm of a siciliana. But this is no rustic idyll: the music exudes deep melancholy, and the upward thrusts that punctuate the violin lines express desperation rather than vigour. The movement contains both the fourth and the fifth psalm verses, which Vivaldi treats strophically. In other words, the setting of the fifth verse is a paraphrase of that of the fourth. But the two ‘stanzas’ are far from identical (for a start, they modulate to different keys at their mid-point, and the movement is split between the two sopranos and their respective orchestras), and the composer shows great imagination in avoiding plain repetition.
Following the refrain, we arrive at the liveliest and most dramatic of the movements. Vivaldi depicts the raising up of the poor and the lifting up of the needy in vivid, forceful gestures expressing the Lord’s power, the two solo sopranos competing among themselves to describe the scene. Next comes a movement in the faux-naïf style that Vivaldi, stimulated by his experience in opera, made his own in the 1710s. In this movement, ‘Ut collocet eum’, the violins unite, thinning out the texture. Whenever the first soprano sings, the bass instruments drop out, leaving the viola as the lowest part. The effect created is that of a simple, rustic dance. This movement, which sets verses 7 and 8, concludes the setting of the psalm proper.
Following another statement of the refrain, we hear the first verse of the Lesser Doxology. This is traditionally a point at which solo display is introduced. Vivaldi makes the movement a ‘solo’ in a double respect, since the second solo soprano has as her partner a solo oboe, previously silent. The two alternate and intertwine in the manner of a chamber duet, but Vivaldi gives the wind instrument an opportunity to come out ‘on top’ by entrusting to it a short but showy written-out cadenza near the end of the final ritornello. The final movement, in time-honoured fashion, takes the statement ‘Sicut erat in principio’ (‘As it was in the beginning’) at face value and reintroduces the music of the opening movement. The restatement is not exact, and in the closing bars Vivaldi intercuts effectively between the text and music of the second verse of the Doxology and those of the second verse of the psalm (the refrain).
from notes by Michael Talbot © 2003