Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Ambronay AMY047. 65’05

Nouveau disque : Les Orphelines de VeniseMuch of Vivaldi’s music was written for the Venetian Ospedali della Pietà, one of many such orphanages set up to cater for the many unwanted, and usually female, babies that seemed to appear some nine months after the carnival season. Although originally funded as charities, they quickly established a reputation for their musical activities, attracting large crowds and provided a secure, and indeed rather opulent, financial establishment. Firmly on the tourist essential to-do list, these female choirs attracted such comments as the one by Charles de Brosses in 1739 who wrote that “there is nothing so pleasant as to see a pretty young nun in a white habit, with a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear directing the orchestra … their voices are delightful in their elegance and lightness”.

There are many debates over exactly how Vivaldi’s works were performed at the Pietà, not least because many of the works apparently written for the girls appear in SATB format, with tenor and bass parts. Some choirs have attempted to use the very few women who are capable of singing something like a male voice line, but they are rarely successful. Other ponder whether the lower voices were sung an octave higher, or whether separate editions were prepared for the first performance in the Ospedali and expanded versions for more general public use.

In this project and recording Geoffroy Jourdain adopts the latter premise. The survival of two versions of the Miserere by Johann Adolph Hasse, one for female voices, the other for a mixed choir, provided evidence as to the latter practice. Another thread in this project is based on the fact that Vivaldi never completed a full Mass setting – that was the preserve of the Maestro di Coro, which Vivaldi wasn’t. However, he did respond to commissions for individual Mass movements and Vespers Psalms.

This recording is an imaginary compilation of the Mass setting that Vivaldi did not write, drawing together the Kyrie (RV 587), Gloria (RV 589), Credo (RV 591), and the Magnificat (RV610a), together with the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro (RV 169), with its gorgeously intense opening sequence, and the Concerto Madrigalesco (RV 129). Many of the pieces include the evocative sequence of suspensions that opens the little-known Kyrie (a particularly fine work), bringing a fine sense of cohesion to the otherwise disparate collection of pieces.

This is a live recording, recorded during the Ambronay Festival in September 2015.  The 19-strong choir of sopranos and alto makes a very convincing sound in Geoffroy Jourdain’s arrangements. Six of the sopranos have solo moments, all impressive. The 18 instrumentalists provide sensitive support to the singers. Whatever the musicological or other arguments for or against the concepts behind this project, the result is a very fine performance.

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