A new Vivaldi Piece and Other Discoveries
The discovery of a new work by a well-known composer inevitably causes some sensation. Two prominent instances from recent years are G.F. Handel’s Gloria and the aria Alles mit Gott by J.S. Bach, BWV 1127. It so happens that once again there is a discovery of a composition by a composer from the same generation. The present recording is of a newly discovered piece by Antonio Vivaldi: a setting of the Dixit Dominus, which was given the work catalogue number RV 807.
The booklet notes by renowned baroque music scholar Michael Talbot give a vivid report of this discovery: during the 1750s or 60s, the Dresden court acquired a great deal of sacred vocal music by the then fashionable Italian composer Baldassare Galuppi. However, the Venetian copyist Don Giuseppe Baldan, from whom the copies were ordered, also included at least four compositions by Antonio Vivaldi, which he wrongly ascribed to Galuppi. These compositions survived in the Saxon State Library in Dresden. In 2005, the Dixit Dominus was identified as a composition of Vivaldi by the Australian scholar Janice Stockigt. Without going into too much detail, Talbot presents the main reasons for this attribution to Vivaldi. Each of these reasons is of a musical nature, based on similarities found in other Vivaldi compositions – an argument that always bears some risks (i.e. it is not clear why Galuppi should not have referred to other Vivaldi compositions). Unfortunately, no reference is given to an article by Stockigt, in which details should be included. As it is, the interested listener is left to believe the authorities’ ascription. However, it is a sign of quality that the details of the manuscript itself are included, as well as a reference to the modern critical edition of the work by Talbot – this edition should include a more convincing reasoning for the work’s ascription.
In any case, this Dixit Dominus is a fine composition, undoubtedly masterly. If it is indeed by Vivaldi, then it deserves not only to be described as "the most important Vivaldi discovery in 75 years" (as a little green sticker on the CD cover quotes anonymous ‘scholars’); it ought to be called one of Vivaldi’s most impressive compositions. In the end, on this CD everybody gets the opportunity to make up his own mind about the authorship of the Dixit: for the CD also includes three works by Galuppi that are similar in dimensions. Indeed, these pieces are quite a discovery! Slightly more modern in style, they remind one of John Adam Hasse, another Dresden composer, highly en vogue on modern recordings.
As the sticker on the CD cover proudly proclaims, this is the "world-premiere recording" of Vivaldi’s newly-discovered Dixit Dominus. However, what it does not mention is the fact that it is also the first recording of the Galuppi pieces. Several of his compositions have become available on CD in recent years, including some larger pieces for choir and orchestra: most notably his Gloria, Magnificat, Laudate Pueri, and the Missa per San Marco 1766 (all on different CDs from smaller labels). Due to the combination with the ‘Vivaldi discovery’ on this CD, Galuppi is finally put a bit more into the limelight. This is a composer worthy of being discovered – it was not for nothing that he was so highly regarded at the Dresden Court, musically one of the most sophisticated courts of the 18th century. The three pieces here are real gems. Nisi Dominus is especially noteworthy: with its great variety of expressions, changes of harmony and accomplished handling of the choral and solo writing; it would not need to eschew comparison with the settings of the text by Vivaldi or even Handel.
Peter Körner and his Körnerscher Sing-Verein Dresden together with the Dresdner Instrumental-Concert, are relative newcomers on the CD market, probably best known for their recording of Joh. Gottlieb Naumann’s Zeit und Ewigkeit on CPO. Here as there, they convince with an excellent performance. Their Vivaldi and Galuppi are full of Mediterranean flair. The singing of the soloists is all of high standard, the presence of some native Italians was probably of great advantage for the whole enterprise. Noteworthy above all is the contralto Sara Mingardo, who gets ample opportunity to present the wide range of expression of her voice in a number of solos. Her tone is warm and round, indeed, it is a pleasant addition to the great range of counter tenors who nowadays famously sing such repertoire. It is to be regretted that the male solo singers (two tenors and basses) get only a few opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. Paul Agnew (tenor I) displays a great virtuosity in ‘Dominus a dextris tuis’ in the Dixit, and later has a very impressive short virtuoso passage in the opening chorus of Laetatus sum. By listening to this music, one understands why Italy was the leading country in the art of singing in those days. Unfortunately, the microphones appear to have been placed too close to the singers: the breathing of the soloists can sometimes be heard very loudly.
The orchestra is equally marvellous; as many groups today, they play on ‘original instruments’. The virtuoso string parts are handled with great ease. Jaroslav Rouček on the trumpet blends in with the rest of the orchestra perfectly, which is somewhat unusual for natural trumpets. The theorba in the basso continuo adds a nice colour, undoubtedly ‘historical performance practice’ and yet not heard very often. Kopp has made good choices in every respect. This applies even to the recording venue: the Lukaskirche has generous acoustics that make the sound full and warm, without the obstructions of a long echo. Singers and instruments are well balanced and produce a great, homogenous sound.
This CD is highly recommendable: if not for the ‘new’ Vivaldi piece, then for the three Galuppi pieces, each of which would be worth buying the CD. It is to hope that Kopp and his crew will continue on this path. We are looking forward to their next release.