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Amor Sacro

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Amor Sacro (Vivaldi motets), Simone Kermes, Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon (released on February 13, 2007)
During their recent U.S. tour, Andrea Marcon's Venice Baroque Orchestra played a Vivaldi program here in Washington with Giuliano Carmignola. For the same tour, they were presenting a different concert of Vivaldi motets from their new CD, Amor Sacro. Steve Smith reviewed that program at Weill Recital Hall (Bringing Verve to Vivaldi With Hints of Spontaneity, March 1) for the New York Times. The recording contains some beautiful tracks, played in the muscular, almost frantic style that Marcon and his small ensemble have made their own. German soprano Simone Kermes has a voice that is well suited to the VBO sound, flexible, agile, accurate, like a laser beam. The four solo motets are a superb selection from the score of possibilities I count in the New Grove works list.

The first movement of In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626) grabs you with its searing string sound and organ continuo, percussive string attacks, and incredible vocal embellishments on the return of the A section. In response to God's just anger in the first movement, the brief recitative agonizingly calls on God's mercy, followed up by the slow passacaglia Tunc meus fletus, a weeping, chromatic aria that would soften any irate deity's heart, especially with the beautiful lute realization of the continuo line and, once again, superb vocal embellishments. This motet has the best concluding Alleluia movement of the four selections on the recording, too. With its gasping repeated-note opening motif, performed orgasmically by Kermes (this is probably the sound emanating from the mouth of Bernini's Teresa of Avila -- holy ecstasy), and the cascading scales from the continuo organ, it will make you want to dance. Check out Sandrine Piau's 2003 performance of it (which makes for an interesting comparison of the effect of daring embellishments -- nice interpolated high C, Sandrine!), captured on YouTube.

Sandrine Piau with Ensemble Amarillis on YouTube:

Alleluia, from In furore

See also:
Spirat anguis, from Nulla in mundo pax sincera

A close second is Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV 630), a very difficult motet Ionarts reviewed recently in a live performance. I am still not sure about the text of this piece, but it receives a standout performance on this recording. The gentle barcarolle of its first movement is an irresistibly rocking dance, seductive enough to make the thought of giving up the worldly life a little more plausible. The remaining selections -- In turbato mare irato (RV 627) and Sum in medio tempestatum (RV 632) -- are well rendered, exciting and lovely, just not quite grabbing me by the viscera as the first two motets. Except for those scandalously jubilant Alleluia movements (tsk! tsk!), this CD has become obsessive Lenten listening.

Deutsche Grammophon 477 5980

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