VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus, RV 807; In furore iustissimae irae, RV 626; HANDEL: Dixit Dominus, HWV 232; – Lucy Crowe, sop./ La Nuova Musica/ David Bates – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807587, 66:38 *****:
This recording includes one of those lucky finds by musical scholars that seem to be happening with increasing frequency nowadays. Vivaldi’s RV 807 was discovered in 2005 in a library in Dresden. The reason it wasn’t identified earlier as coming from Vivaldi is that the copyists at the print shop had put the name of Venetian composer Baldasare Galuppi on the cover page, seeming to indicate that by the time of its publication Galuppi was a bigger name than Vivaldi. RV 807 is a relatively late work, from around 1730, probably not intended for Vivaldi’s longtime employer, Ospedale della Pietà, “which could never have mustered the two agile tenors needed for the “ Tecum principium [fourth movement],” according to Michael Talbot in his succinct but expert notes to the recording.
The work is certainly prime Vivaldi, with stirring choruses, including a fugal finale that’s a real tour de force. Of course there are the usual quasi-operatic arias and duos, including a stern tenor aria “Dominus a dextris tuis” (“The Lord at they right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath”) followed by a chorus “Judicabit in nationibus” (“He shall judge among the heathen”), in which a single trumpet represents the Last Trump of Judgement Day. The instrumentation matches that of Vivaldi’s famous Gloria, RV 589, though the Dixit Dominus is somewhat more intense than the prevailingly jolly and upbeat Gloria. This is to be expected, given that the Psalm text has the Lord wounding the heads of many countries and piling up the dead bodies of His enemies. However, if you love Vivaldi’s Gloria, you’ll certainly very much like the Dixit.
Speaking of intensity, that pretty much describes the atmosphere Handel creates in his Dixit Dominus, written in 1707 presumably for the Festival of Our Lady of Carmel held in Rome (hence the title Carmelite Vespers attached to the Dixit and other Psalm settings performed on the same occasion). Cast in the key of G minor, the work catches Handel in a singularly unsmiling mood. More than Vivaldi, he emphasizes God’s wrath, with insistent repetitions of “Dixit” at the start of the piece and sputtering repetitions of con-qua-sa- on the line “conquasabit capita” (“he shall wound the heads”). Clearly, as in his remarkable set of Italian cantatas written for Roman patrons, the twenty-two-year-old Handel wanted to outshine his Italian competition—and pretty much did so in music of rugged brilliance and beauty.
As an attractive makeweight, David Bates and La Nuova Musica offer Vivaldi’s motet In furore iustissimae irae (“In Wrath and Most Just Anger”) with assistance from the clarion-voiced Lucy Crowe. The Latin verses of the motet make a conventional plea to God for mercy, but Vivaldi’s treatment exceeds pure convention as he applies some of his most effective tone-painting to the third movement:Tunc meus fletus Evadet laetus Dum pro te meum Languescit cor. Then shall my weeping Turn to joy As my heart is softened Towards you.
Here, Vivaldi vividly portrays both the weeping of the sinner and the softening of her heart with languid drooping melodic lines. An ecstatic, very much coloratura Alleluia rounds off the work.
There are quite a number of fine recordings of Handel’s Dixit in the catalog and, despite its recent discovery, one very fine recording of Vivaldi’s RV 807, from Peter Kopp and Dresdener Instrumental-Concert on DGG. That recording features Psalm settings by Galuppi such as would have been sung at a Vespers service. It’s an inviting program, and you may wish to consider the Dresden recording if you want the Vivaldi but already have one or more favorite recordings of the Handel. However, be advised that David Bates and La Nuova Musica really ratchet up the excitement and intensity in both works, but especially in the Handel. I’ve never heard the last section (et in saecula saeculorum) zip along at such a rapid pace—and without seeming hardship on the excellent voices of the group. Then there’s Lucy Crowe’s beautiful singing of the Vivaldi motet—not new to the catalog either, yet I doubt there’s a more flavorful rendition available.
With an opulent surround-sound recording from Harmonia mundi, this disc has much to commend it, even if you’ll end up duplicating one or more of the works on the program.