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GRAMOPHONE (07/2023)
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Reviewer :
Lindsay Kemp

Of Vivaldi’s three surviving serenatas, this one is the leastknown, well behind La Senna festeggiante, of which there are at least four fine recordings. In Vivaldi’s day a serenata was a concert-length work for vocal soloists and orchestra, usually ordered by a wealthy patron to celebrate an event such as a family wedding or an important visit. Its unvarying sequence of arias and recitatives made it look and sound much like an oratorio or unstaged opera, save that it would have the slimmest plot it could get away with, was often performed outdoors, and served mainly as a vehicle for an attractive and undemanding musical entertainment that perhaps took the trouble to flatter its generous commissioner – in this case a French count living in Venice, probably for his wedding in 1718. It’s a brief Vivaldi was ideally equipped to fulfil, and this work – whose only dramaturgy is that a nymph, in love with a handsome shepherd who is too proud to embrace true love, entraps him at last, only to reject him out of hand for punishment – is a delight from start to finish. I can only think that the lack of a proper title is what has prevented it from making more of an impression on the world, for this is Vivaldi at his most beguiling: unfailingly attractive arias, quick and clever recitatives, and everywhere that special plein air summer-evening atmosphere that is uniquely his, especially when embracing the plentiful nature imagery put in its path by the anonymous librettist.

The Abchordis Ensemble under Andrea Buccarella impressed me much with their album of soprano cantatas in a previous volume of Naïve’s Vivaldi series (1/22; this one is Vol 70) and they do not disappoint here. The three singers are excellent, especially sopranos Marie Lys as the nymph Eurilla and Sophie Rennert as her confidante Nice, both of whom combine clarity and pleasing tone with impressive technical control, and are pure pleasure to listen to. Listen to Lys in the horn-hewn hunting aria ‘Alla caccia d’un core spietato’, or Rennert in ‘Ad infiammar quel seno’. Tenor Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani is not quite as vocally secure as the others but he certainly sounds the part as Alcindo the preening shepherd. And just like in that cantata recording, the instrumentalists show wonderful skill and intelligence in the art of accompanying vocal music of this kind, living every affect and using a well-stocked continuo section with great imagination and sensitivity. This may be a minor corner of the Vivaldi canon but it’s a gem. And I look forward to hearing these musicians in a full-scale opera sometime soon.

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