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Reviewer :
Richard Lawrence

Hard on the heels of Le Poème Harmonique’s programme of Vivaldi and others (Alpha, 11/22) comes this all-Vivaldi album from Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen on the same label. Nisi Dominus, RV608, a setting of Psalm 127, appears on both recordings. Not very enterprising, when you consider the wealth of material available; but whereas the former was a showcase for the mezzosoprano Eva Zaïcik, here we have the equally fine countertenor Tim Mead. Mead sets out his stall, so to speak, with fluent semiquaver runs in the opening section of Nisi Dominus. Cohen gets a nice drowsiness from his strings in ‘Cum dederit’ (‘for so he giveth his beloved sleep’), but Mead is not so expressive as Zaïcik, who finds a greater intensity in the rising chromatic phrases. In the gentle ‘Gloria Patri’, though, he communes beautifully with the soulful viola d’amore of Bojan C?i?ic´. Salve regina, RV618, is scored for twone joined in ‘Eia ergo’ by oboes playing in thirds. There’s more sleepiness in the flowing ‘Et Jesum benedictum’, where Mary shows the newborn child to the suppliants.

Tim Mead sings with a pleasing richness of tone, but with little dynamic variation an air of blandness hangs over these two pieces. One has the impression that he feels a greater affinity with the disc’s two secular cantatas. In Cessate, omai cessate the rejected lover vows to kill himself. Mead communicates real passion in the opening accompanied recitative and, matched by violent strings, in the final aria. Amor, hai vinto, also a protracted moan, ends more optimistically with a virtuoso performance from this gifted singer.

The vocal contributions are offset by two brief pieces for strings. The Ripieno Concerto in D minor, RV128, has vigorous outer movements and a short central Largo dominated by a dotted figure. The Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro, RV169, is also on Le Poème Harmonique’s album, where Vincent Dumestre takes the Adagio molto rather too quickly. Like Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina (Naïve, 8/06), Cohen and Arcangelo are more measured and thereby more moving. The fugal Allegro ma poco o string groups, the first  makes a powerful ending to this tiny masterpiece.

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