With this new recording featuring a selection of Vivaldi’s motets for alto voice, stellar French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky comes full circle a decade or so after his previous two recordings devoted to Vivaldi’s most virtuosic music. In doing so, he similarly demonstrates the operatic and concerto-like qualities of these ostensibly devotional works. This is music that delights in virtuosity, both subtle and exultant, as a legitimate form of praise.
If motets such as Clarae stellae, first performed in 1715 at the Ospedale della Pietà whose name is forever linked to that of the Red Priest’s, and Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater of 1712 demonstrate a more demure style with occasional melismatic outbursts, it’s a different story with the later Longe mala, umbrae, terrores. In the first section alone, Jaroussky must negotiate unrelenting roulades, which he does with uncompromising élan; likewise the final Alleluia which most obviously recalls an opera aria or the final movement of some lost violin concerto. But just listen to the honeyed, tender melismas in Descende, o coeli vox and Jaroussky reveals a truer, deeper artistry.
So with these works, which include an exquisite introduction to a lost Miserere, a gently throbbing Salve Regina and the Domine Deus from that Gloria, Jaroussky’s artistry is total. And if Ensemble Artaserse’s phrasing seems a natural extension of Jaroussky’s voice, it is also acutely responsive to the colours implied in Vivaldi’s writing and text themselves.