Movement 1: Nisi Dominus aedificaverit
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Tuva Semmingsen (mezzo-soprano), Hilary Summers (alto), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Movement 2: Nisi Dominus custodierit
Tuva Semmingsen (mezzo-soprano), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor), Katherine McGillivray (viola d'amore)
Movement 3: Vanum est vobis
Movement 4: Cum dederit
Movement 5: Sicut sagittae
Movement 6: Beatus vir
Movement 7: Gloria Patri
Movement 8: Sicut erat in principio
My subsequent work to authenticate the work as a composition by Vivaldi soon established that all of these hunches were correct. (Those who are interested can read an introductory article on it in the first issue of the new journal Eighteenth-Century Music, scheduled to appear in spring 2004.) This was indeed the last of the group of five Psalms for which Vivaldi was paid in 1739 to be identified (the other four are RV604, RV609, RV795 and the incompletely preserved RV789).
And what a work! Vivaldi scores it for three solo voices – soprano, contralto and ‘tenor’ (actually, a contralto whose part is written in the tenor clef) – and five obbligato instruments (in addition to the three mentioned above, solo cello and solo organ appear), with the usual strings and continuo. The setting allots a separate movement to each verse (of which there are six, plus the two for the Lesser Doxology). Its structure is almost perfectly symmetrical. The outer movements, based on common material, employ all three voices with orchestra. The second and sixth movements are for solo voice, one obbligato instrument (viola d’amore and cello, respectively) and continuo. The third and fifth movements are for solo voice and orchestra (with the ‘violino in tromba marina’ added in the latter case). The sensational fourth movement, the ‘calm at the heart of the storm’, is for one voice, obbligato chalumeau and a bass alternating between unison violins and unharmonized continuo. Even the key scheme, A–D–G–C–G–D–A, is symmetrical. This tidy order is broken, however, by the seventh movement, which is in a minor key (E minor) and is scored, like the fifth movement, for a solo voice, orchestra and an obbligato instrument (organ). The solo voices ‘progress’, as the composition unfolds, from alto (movements 2 to 4) to ‘tenor’ (movement 5) and finally soprano (movements 6 to 7).
This ‘second’ Nisi Dominus by Vivaldi (the first is the familiar RV608, in G minor) is easily the most attractive work in the 1739 set. It shows how thoroughly Vivaldi was influenced, during the 1730s, by the dominant galant style, and how enterprising he continued to be, even at the very end of his career, in his choice of instrumental colours. This is truly his ‘swan song’ for the Pietà.
from notes by Michael Talbot © 2004