VIVALDI: “Bellezza Crudel” – Cantatas RV 679, 660, 664, 678; Concerti RV 484, 441 – Tone Wik, Soprano/ Barokkanerne – 2L Multichannel SACD 56, 64:13 ***** [Distr. by Qualiton]:
Vivaldi’s instrumental music is sufficiently well known after 60 years of popularization to be easily identifiable when heard out of its usual cultural context. Even television advertisements now use some of his more familiar themes as the basis for selling objects as diverse as diamonds and frozen pizza. One could say that his music has arrived.
Vivaldi’s vocal music is an entirely different matter. Other than the fairly well known Gloria most of his vast vocal output remains an undiscovered country, much of it still in manuscript form resting on dusty shelves in out-of-the-way libraries. We are still in the early stages of its rediscovery. The process may unfold with a similar mixture of surprise and awe such as followed the unexpected success of the famous 1950 Cetra recording of The Four Seasons. That recording introduced music lovers to a vast storehouse of Baroque instrumental music of surprisingly high quality. Recordings such as Belleza Crudel will do the same for Vivaldi’s vocal music; in this instance his superb cantatas. We know of 36 of these operatic short stories, most of which are written for soprano and basso continuo.
This beautiful recording features four cantatas and two popular instrumental concertos in a lovely mixture that presents the two major aspects of Vivaldi’s musical persona. The concertos as well as parts of the cantatas feature Vivaldi the lyrical tone painter, skillfully utilizing the pictorial capabilities that are naturally inherent in Baroque music because of its essential structural freedom. The Four Seasons was not an isolated example of Vivaldi’s efforts in this area.
Vivaldi’s other musical face offers an emotional nature of nearly unworldly diffidence. His music can be quietly passionate and sensitively evocative with its sure-handed portrayal of love’s cruelty, the often painful apprehension of beauty and the inevitable torment of loss. This is powerful and heartbreaking music, especially when combined with the sheer beauty of tone and lyrical expressiveness that is found in a superlative singer.
Soprano Tone Wik has a voice of such forlorn beauty and ethereal purity that it perfectly suits Vivaldi’s theatricality. In its agility and accuracy Ms. Wik’s voice serves as a perfect foil for Vivaldi’s limpid musical lines, brilliantly performed by the Norwegian period ensemble Barokkanerne. Vivaldi never overwhelms the ear. Rather he seduces it with disarming simplicity in the way he uses solo instruments such as the flute and recorder, the cello and the bassoon. These works are almost concertos for solo instrument and voice because of the musical equality with which Vivaldi showcases them. It is hard to imagine discovering a similarly effortless beauty of tone and emotional persuasiveness anywhere else, at least in the near future. This superlative recording will not soon be surpassed. Most strongly recommended.
The sound on this SACD is beautifully focused and clear. Instruments and voice are presented as if they are performing in the same room as the listener. In its naturalness and warmth the music has all of the best qualities of an analog vinyl record [plus surround!…Ed.].
— Mike Birman