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The Magnificat is notable for its conciseness. As it is a setting of the canticle sung at every Vesper service, it was inevitably destined to be repeated time after time, and this is perhaps the reason why Vivaldi exercised such restraint. It opens – strikingly – with the favourite chromatic passage set to the first verse. There follows an ‘aria a tre’, a movement in which the text of each of the three succeeding verses is sung by a different voice. Even the choir makes a brief appearance, repeating the alto’s ‘omnes’ (‘all’) with punning effect. This is followed by the most extended and memorable of all the movements, a chorus on the verse beginning ‘Et misericordia eius’. Here Vivaldi expresses great poignancy through chromaticism and ‘anguished’ melodic intervals such as the major seventh. The next two verses are set as a pair of choral movements: ‘Fecit potentiam’ dramatically demonstrates the Lord’s strength over a splendidly busy bass line, and the mighty are put down and the humble exalted in graphic fashion. Next, to illustrate the filling of the ‘hungry with good things’, Vivaldi inserts a charming duet for sopranos supported by a prominent ostinato figure in the bass. The ‘Suscepit Israel’ is a brief interlude, leading to the surprisingly cheerful ‘Sicut locutus est’ terzet – not quite the solemn homage to the biblical forefathers which this verse usually produces. The Doxology begins with a condensed version of the work’s opening bars (the punning possibilities of the words ‘As it was in the beginning’ are rarely overlooked!), followed by a vigorous double fugue in traditional style.
from notes by Michael Talbot © 1994
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