I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Vivaldi - Stabat Mater, Nisi Dominus

I recently picked up (digitally) a new recording of Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus by Jean-Phillipe Spinosi and the Ensemble Matheus. This CD features Phillipe Jaroussky and Marie-Nicole Lemieux. While the countertenor takes RV 608, the alto takes RV 621. What's interesting is a competing CD by Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante with David Daniels. How do they compare? There's a lot to compare: different vocalists, interpretations, and ensembles. Not to mention the recording itself. Let's start by saying, out of the gate, Jaroussky is amazing in the opening number from Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus. A great, fast tempo is established, and then his singing sticks to the instruments like glue, strong, and expanding with emotive power when necessary. You feel he owns this number. The Ensemble Matheus is lean in this recording, plenty of attitude (as usual), but maybe a tad flat? I'm not sure who the soloist is the Gloria, but here the EM take a second seat to the viola d'amore solo by Fabio Biondi in the alternative, older recording. Both the tempo and phrasing are superior with Biondi. By the time we get to the Amen, the drama and vocal flights of fancy go back into Jaroussky's court. I admire David Daniel's sound and voice. And I've always enjoyed his recording with Fabio Biondi. But for Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus, Jaroussky under Spinosi is an all-around better contender. It's not clearly better in every detail, but the sound and artistry are simply more affective coming from this new CD. The second work is Vivaldi's more famous (and in my opinion, better) work, the Stabat Mater. Here we have another contrast, a female contralto with a male countertenor. I think the new recording by Spinosi loses in this round, compared to the reading by Biondi with Daniels. Where Daniels is a golden honey sound, Lemiux is more dark flavor, thicker, slower, and tinged with an ounce of poison. The whole interpretation by Matheus is another quizzicality too. The playing is dynamic, for sure, but in odd ways. Who can resist that solo treatment Biondi gives the same work, that tone and that personality? The multiple violins under Spinosi just don't compare. And they don't seem to be speaking Vivaldi's language here. For the SM, Daniels and Biondi clearly have the upper edge. It's simply more enjoyable under them. Now, if the EM took a 1 per part approach, and followed the line (the melody versus the vertical alignment in phrasing), and had Jaroussky at the mike, then... we might have something really to compare. So, it's a tie. Spinosi: 1, Biondi: 1.

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