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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Vivaldi was never the maestro of the Ospedale della Pietà’s coro (about 70 musicians), but at different times he provided sacred music for it – such as when Gasparini absconded in 1713. Scholars agreed long ago that it stands to reason the tenor and bass choir parts in the famous Gloria were sung by the girls (perhaps the ‘basses’ transposed their music up an octave), but the majority of recordings avoid grappling with this problem head-on – with the notable exception of Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Choir (Virgin, 1/95R).


Hervé Niquet never does things on autopilot, and he takes another look at how an all-female performance might sound. The opening ritornello has zippy brio, with some sudden exaggerations in dynamic, especially from the instrumentalists of Le Concert Spirituel, but the all-female choir of 20 (five on each part) sing with plangent sonorities, crisp diction and energetic vigour. Niquet’s pacy and warm-blooded direction results in a vibrant performance unlike any other in the vast discography. Solemn choral movements (‘Et in terra pax hominibus’ and ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’) grow from unusually intimate to extrovertly emotional in their supplications, but Niquet’s decision to have all the ladies sing the ‘solo’ parts in massed unison is disconcerting. Maybe an element of bluff lies behind his unsupported generalisation that this ‘was very frequently done in Vivaldi’s day’, but he rightly observes that solo numbers such as ‘Laudamus te’ acquire ‘an exceptional intensity’.


The shorter psalms Laetatus sum and Lauda Jerusalem are compelling, and Vivaldi’s skill at choral counterpoint is manifest in sublime slow choruses (‘Et misericordia’) in the earliest version of his sole extant Magnificat.

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