Wednesday 4 July 2018

Handel & Vivaldi from Grace Davidson and the Academy of Ancient Music

Vivaldi & Handel - Grace Davidson - Signum Classics
Handel & Vivaldi motets; Grace Davidson, Academy of Ancient Music; Signum Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 June 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Performances of great purity and beauty from soprano Grace Davidson

This new disc from soprano Grace Davidson features three of Handel's major works for solo soprano and orchestra, the motet Silete venti HWV 242, the recently re-discovered Gloria and the Salve Regina HWV 241, alongside Vivaldi's motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera RV360. Davidson is accompanied by the Academy of Ancient Music, artistic leader Joseph Crouch, and the disc is issued on the Signum Records label.

Grace Davidson is perhaps best known as a consort singer, performing with ensembles directed by John Eliot Gardiner, Paul McCreesh and Philippe Herreweghe, with a large discography with Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, and these have featured her in solo roles too. More recently she has featured on a number of film sound-tracks and sang on Max Richter's Sleep, Woolf Works and Memoryhouse recordings.
The origins of Handel's motet Silete Venti remain obscure, it was written in London in 1720s but the exact reason for its creation are unknown. Handel certainly was not writing Latin church music at the time and the motet's lavish layout suggests a significant performance. It may have been written for one of his opera soloists, or perhaps for his Italian visit of 1729. The Gloria was written some 20 years before, probably 1703 to 1709 (Handel borrowed from it for his Laudate pueri and Utrecht jublilate), and it was re-discovered in 2000 in the library of the Royal Academy of Music, though the manuscript is not in Handel's hand. For the Salve Regina we are on slightly firmer ground, we know that it was written during Handel's stay in Rome in 1707 for his patron Marchese Ruspoli in whose private chapel it was first performed.

Vivaldi's motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera, setting an anonymous text, dates from 1735 during a period when Vivaldi was working at the Ospedale della Pieta and the piece may well have been written for performance at the services there, as much of Vivaldi's Latin music was.

Grace Davidson has a voice of great beauty and purity, along with an admirable technique which means that I have rarely heard passagework sung with such apparent ease and evenness. You will, I think, rarely hear these motets sung so fluently and in such a beautiful manner.  Yet Handel's works were probably written to be performed by operatic soloists (the soprano Margherita Durastani premiered a number of his Roman works), and Davidson's performance is very far from operatic. What I missed was a sense of the the drama and the meaning of individual words, rather than a generic projection of emotion, I did rather long for a greater amount of colour in the voice. And despite the technical beauty of her performance, I also wanted an element of bravura danger.

She is accompanied finely by the Academy of Ancient Music, with cellist Joseph Crouch as Artistic Leader.

For all my quibbles, there is a great deal to commend this disc, and you will probably go a long way before you hear these works so beautifully sung.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Silete Venti
George Frideric Handel - Gloria
George Frideric Handel - Salve Regina
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Nulla in mundo pax sincera
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Academy of Ancient Music
Joseph Crouch (artistic leader)
Recorded at All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 27-29 April 2015 and 14 January 2017
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • The good the bad and the ugly: Susan Froemke's The Opera House (★★★½) - film review
  • Russian Romantics: music for violin & piano by Glinka, Glazunov, Cui, Rubenstein, & more (★★★) - CD review
  • Powerful & emotional stuff: Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse at RCM Double Bill - Opera review
  • What a delightful voice: getting to know the music of Francesco Gasparini (★★★★) - CD review
  • Coming into focus: Kasper Holten's production of Don Giovanni returns to the Royal Opera  (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • A great big present: Stephen Medcalf on returning to Buxton to direct his favourite piece, Idomeneo  - interview
  • Handel's finest arias for base voice - Christopher Purves, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Story-telling in America: Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Each a world unto itself: Arvo Pärt The Symphonies (★★★★) - CD review
  • Intimate, candid and completely fascinating: The Tchaikovsky Papers - unlocking the family archive (★★★★) - book review
  • Home

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