This disc, entitled simply Vivaldi, is the second collaboration between Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and the Venice Baroque Orchestra. It is fine enough to make me want to seek out that first partnership, of arias by Handel. This puts the spotlight on Venetian master-composer Vivaldi, in the musical area he favoured above all others – opera.
We know Vivaldi mainly through his instrumental writing. However, as the notesto this disc stress, Vivaldi saw himself predominantly as a man of the theatre. The15 tracks here are drawn from 14 of the more than 90 works he wrote for the opera stage.
Kožená’s lustrous voice is clear and agile enough to handle with ease all the pyrotechnics of Vivaldi’s most technically difficult arias. But for this recital she has deliberately chosen the deceptively ‘easier’ slower arias where the singer must search predominantly for lucid expression and meaning. The result is ravishingly beautiful.
Most of the arias will be unfamiliar – even the limpid and melancholic ‘Gelido in ogni vena’ from Farnace has its own unique style and beauty, even though we can hear that it has evolved from the famous ‘Winter’ violin concerto. Particularly effective are the arias in which Michele Favaro (transverse flute) and Anna Fusek (recorder) provide obbligato accompaniment. Fusek’s recorder in ‘Cara sorte di chi nata’ from La Verità in Cimento reminds us that many musicologists believe our early songs derived from man’s early attempts to copy bird-song.
There’s a crystalline delicacy here, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra provides the perfect period setting.