New Classical Tracks: The "Angels" of Veniceby Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
Antonio Vivaldi wrote some of his best-known pieces for an unusual group of musicians: young women who were taught to sing and play instruments at a Venetian orphanage. A new disc pays homage to their extraordinary talent.
St. Paul, Minn. — For almost 40 years, Antonio Vivaldi taught at the Ospedale della Pieta, an all-female orphanage in Venice. There were some one thousand orphans, yet only fifty were chosen to study music under Vivaldi. This exceptional small group of talented young women became a sensation in Italy. You might say, they were Vivaldi's "angels." Matthias Maute and his Canadian-based Ensemble Caprice pay homage to the incredible music Vivaldi composed for the young women of the Ospedale on their new recording, "Gloria! Vivaldi's Angels."
The Gloria (RV 589) is one of Vivaldi's best-known works for choir and orchestra. Hearing it with an all-women's choir seems odd at first because the notation of the choir's parts indicates it was designed for a conventional choir with an added bass and tenor line-and that's how we usually hear it. Looking at the historical circumstances however, it's apparent that Vivaldi composed this work originally for his "angels" at the Ospedale. In this performance Ensemble Caprice has a gentler sound that affords them plenty of flexibility when it comes to dramatic loud and soft dynamics.
The young musicians at the Ospedale were extraordinary; their talent matched the best orchestras at the most prestigious courts of the day. Vivaldi artfully showcased the talent of each singer and musician who interpreted his music. This skill is evident throughout pieces like, "Laudamus te." Monika Mauch and Shannon Mercer are the dueling sopranos who soar through this duet with melodic lines similar to virtuosic violin music. We hear that same effervescent agility in the solo soprano voice of Shannon Mercer in "Ostro Picta," a motet which, in concert, served as an introduction to Vivaldi's Gloria. The simple instrumentation of organ, oboe and solo soprano in the "Domine Deus, rex coelestis," from the Gloria, is another example of how Vivaldi uses individual musicians to the fullest. The lilting soprano voice of Shannon Mercer is otherworldly in this performance.
The choir offers major surprises on this recording, too. The intervals between the vocal registers of the different female voices on this recording are smaller than you might hear in a mixed gender choir. That means the tighter harmonies more strongly impact the dissonances we hear. This is evident in pieces like "Et Misericordia" from Vivaldi's "Magnificat."
In addition to the choral pieces using the soprano voice, Matthias Maute and Ensemble Caprice added another "soprano" piece into the mix. It's a concerto for two soprano recorders, strings and basso continuo. The two solo parts were originally conceived for two oboes. Since Vivaldi often composed recorder music for the young women at the orphanage, he would probably approve of this arrangement for recorders.
According to reports during Vivaldi's time, members of the audience at La Pieta who came to hear the marvelous young women under his direction would often cry and cheer enthusiastically during the performances. In listening to the challenging works on this new recording, it's no wonder they were so impressed and amazed by "Vivaldi's Angels." This recording with Matthias Maute and Ensemble Caprice, which pays homage to the music Vivaldi wrote for his "Angels" at La Pieta, will surprise and delight as well.