Monday, 8 April 2019

Italian charm with a French accent in Vivaldi's La Senna Festeggiante from Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo

Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante - Anna Reinhold, Emőke Baráth, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen, Callum Thorpe at Wigmore Hall (Photo Arcangelo)
Vivaldi: La Senna festeggiante - Anna Reinhold, Emőke Baráth, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen, and Callum Thorpe
at Wigmore Hall (Photo Arcangelo)
Vivaldi La Senna festeggiante RV693; Emőke Baráth, Anna Reinhold, Callum Thorpe, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Wigmore Hall 
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A serenata originally written for performance in a Venetian garden, Vivaldi's occasional piece charms and delights in this engaging performance

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles. The work performed was almost certainly Vivaldi's serenata La Senna festeggiante RV693, (The Seine rejoicing), an occasional work for three soloists and orchestra which remains a relatively lesser known piece in Vivaldi's oeuvre.

Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, leader Louis Creac'h, gave Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante a rare London outing at the Wigmore Hall on Friday 5 April 2019 with soloists Emőke Baráth (soprano), Anna Reinhold (mezzo-soprano) and Callum Thorpe (bass). The piece sets a libretto by Domenico Lalli, a Venetian poet who had supplied the librettos for some of Vivaldi's operas, and it takes the personifications of L'Eta dell'Oro (the Golden Age), Virtu (manly valour) and the Seine. They moan about the state of the world today, are entertained by the singing and dancing of woodland deities and then, in the shorter second half, pay homage to 'the greatest star which is the light of Gaul', i.e. the 16 year old Louis.

Vivaldi seems to have supplied music which prized entertainment value above all, much of the piece is positively toe tapping with strong vibrant rhythms, and some fine showy arias. It is not the deepest of works, and you certainly do not have to look at the libretto. But in a performance as finely engaging as the one from Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, there is much enjoyable charm in the music and moments of fine virtuosity.
Whilst clearly Italian in style, Vivaldi paid nods to his hosts with elements of French music, most notably the way he uses orchestral accompanied recitatives (something common in French opera) rather than continuo accompanied ones, and the whole work ends with a grand Coro which is a Chaconne, a movement beloved of French composers, though the keen eared will detect links to a movement of Vivaldi's Gloria too, and indeed the whole work has a great element of re-use of material, but part of the charm is the way Vivaldi works it into a finely attractive whole.

We started with a crisp and bouncy Sinfonia, with a jolly bass part for the bassoon, something Vivaldi repeated in other movements, and a middle Andante with graceful flutes. Much of the music had the same delightfully perky bounce to it, with the musicians of Arcangelo taking great delight in making Vivaldi's writing vividly engaging.

As L'Eta dell'Oro, soprano Emőke Baráth had a lovely rich, focused soprano voice and a winning way with her, charming us with each entry and dashing of the ornamental passages with ease. She made the music seem delightful. Anna Reinhold as Virtu was a more sober performer, with a lovely well modulated dark-toned voice that we first heard in concert with graceful flutes. In the second half she had a striking aria where the elaborate vocal line was accompanied by a 'bass line' of just violins and harpsichord. Throughout, I was struck by the imagination which Vivaldi brought to the scoring.

As the embodiment of the river Seine, Callum Thorpe was suitably resonant and dark voiced, impressing with the sheer gravity of his sound yet also complementing the perky bounce of the accompaniment with a beautiful resonance.

The three singers came together for the Coro movements, particularly the delightful dance-inspired ending of part one and the chaconne at the end of the work where all concerned were clearly having great fun. So much so, that we were treated to an encore of the movement!

There was a great deal going on in London on 5 April 2019, not least of which was the performance of Semele by Vivaldi's great contemporary Handel at the Barbican. But for those interested in exploring some of the byways of the Baroque world, Jonathan Cohen, Arcangelo and the team gave us wonderful engaging account of a work which, whilst neither deep nor philosophical, certainly delighted and charmed.

This review also appears in OperaToday.com

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • More than just Costly Canaries: Bridget Cunningham on re-capturing Handel and the importance of research  - interview
  • Bach CD round up: Violin, piano, harpsichord, organ - recent instrumental discs - CD review
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  • Esa-Pekka Salonen: Cello Concerto (★★★★) - Cd review
  • Beyond Frankenstein: I chat to Emmy award winning sound-designer and composer Mark Grey - Interview
  • Brilliant re-invention: Handel's Berenice from London Handel Festival & Royal Opera (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Unrelenting darkness and miasma in the East End labyrinth: premiere of Jack the Ripper at ENO (★★★★½) - opera review
  • From newspaper article to opera: our journey creating our new opera The Gardeners  - feature article
  • Keeping it fresh: conductor David Hill on the challenges of performing Bach's St Matthew Passion annually with the Bach Choir - interview
  • Period charm & fizzing performance: Messager's Les p'tites Michu from Palazzetto Bru Zane  (★★★★) - Cd review
  • A remarkable work of reconstruction: Opera Rara's world premiere recording of Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida (★★★★) - CD review
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