Vivaldi: Cantatas for soprano 1

Arianna Vendittelli, Abchordis Ensemble, Andrea Buccarella
naïve OP7257

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It cannot be stressed too often just what an extraordinary project Naïve’s complete Vivaldi Edition is. With their striking, sometimes bizarre covers featuring models – this one a very 21st-century young woman adorned with a ruff and blossom in her tousled hair – each CD adds to a total of issues that with this addition devoted to soprano cantatas reaches volume 68.

By definition the Edition has introduced many new works to the catalogue, but Vivaldi’s 30-odd cantatas have in general been reasonably well represented on record and all six here (RV 650, 652, 669, 667, 660 and 665) are or have been previously available on CD. That is not to detract from the present issue, which, while not flawless, has a great deal to recommend it. Not the least of the appeal comes from the beguiling quality and personality of Arianna Vendittelli’s soprano, which heard at its best gives to these pastoral cantatas of love in its various guises an empathy and seductive warmth that is irresistible and frequently touching. Ornaments are neatly turned and passaggi negotiated with an agile ease, though I fear as so often it is necessary to report there is no convincingly articulated trill to be heard, though Vendittelli deserves credit for at least attempting this most elusive, but essential of decorations.  

If only that were the whole story, but sadly it is not. In common with so many singers today Vendittelli exercises less than perfect control over her higher register, which is too often unevenly produced. This is particularly in evidence in the most ambitious and outstanding of these cantatas, ‘Sorge vermiglia in ciel, la bella Aurora’ RV 667. In four movements alternating recitative and aria, it is, as it not uncommon, the complaint of the lover whose affections are not returned but who will still remain faithful to the loved one, in this case Sylvia. The passion and fervour are barely contained and the cantata, which concludes with a full-blooded aria di furia was obviously written for an exceptional virtuoso castrato or soprano, with expansive often awkward vocal leaps in all four movements. The opening recitative allows Vendittelli to reveal impressive chest notes in the lower register, but in the aria ‘Nasce il sole’ the lack of control is cruelly revealed, with the difference in volume between the chest notes and upper head notes running counter to everything we know about the technical requirements of the day (cf. Tosi). Yet what is disappointing is that both here and elsewhere Vendittelli shows she has a lovely mezza voce perfectly capable of ‘touching’ (Tosi’s word) upper notes. There’s an especially noteworthy example in the final aria, ‘Vedrò con nero’ from the delightful lighter cantata ‘La farfalletta s’aggira al lume’, RV 660. Here the word ‘splendor’ is positively caressed on its final appearance with each repetition. I relish, too, the undulations of the B section of this aria, with their little hints of portamento.

The singer is given well-played continuo support by the members of the Abchordis Ensemble (here harpsichord or organ, cello, chittarone or archlute) and bassoon (in slighter RV 669 and 665), but it is not always tastefully judged. This applies particularly to movements where the plucked instrument is given full reign to make a tiresomely over-intrusive contribution, while the introduction to the opening aria of RV 660 sounds positively twee rather than capturing Vivaldi’s delightful evocation of flitting butterflies and meandering bees. Nonetheless, and as stressed above, Vendittelli brings to these cantatas much that is to be cherished and relished. For that reason the CD is welcomed as yet another valuable addition to the Vivaldi edition.    

Brian Robins

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