In its 80th season, Masterworks Chorale is sounding the best that I’ve heard it in my many years of attending its concerts. Conductor Kevin Leong, in his third year with this ensemble, surely must take much of the credit for its improved sound, better intonation, better balance, crisper rhythms. Saturday at Sanders Theater (they perform here twice a season, and at a Old South Church once a season, with organ) their program enjoyably blended Monteverdi and the forever-popular Vivaldi, with an excellent period orchestra. Those who were there—this ensemble is chronically under-attended—heard a wonderfully memorable concert.
The Chorale opened with three delightful, rather unfamiliar Monteverdi shorts: Christe, adoreamus te, Cantata Domino canticum novum, and the ravishing Adoramus te, Christe (with Voces HERE ). This was not nearly enough Monteverdi.
Vivaldi’s delightful Dixit Dominus (“Di Praga”) didn’t have a modern edition until 1993. Its manuscript parts rested at the National Museum on Prague. Its scoring is similar to Vivaldi’s Gloria and it’s likely that it was, like the Gloria, written for the choir of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphaned and abandoned girls. The Ospedale prided itself on the quality of its musical education and the excellence of its choir and orchestra. Vivaldi, a priest, music teacher and virtuoso violinist, composed many sacred works for the Ospedale, where he spent most of his career, as well as hundreds of instrumental concertos to be played by the girls’ orchestra. (He famously wrote, for these girls, 39 bassoon concerti!) I loved my first introduction to this piece—everyone seems to know or have played Gloria, but Dixit Dominus seems like an unnecessarily overlooked sibling.
Gloria, undoubtedly Vivaldi’s most famous choral piece, presents the traditional Gloria from the Latin Mass in 12 varied cantata-like sections. Scored for four-part chorus, Gloria, in our times, is usually performed by mixed choruses, although this mixture of voices was almost surely not have been performed by men and women in 18th-century Europe, where this would have been considered indecent. As Kevin Leong points out in his superb program notes, “Although the Gloria was published for mixed choirs of men and boys—the soprano and alto parts would have been sung by boys and countertenors, respectively—Vivaldi actually composed the Gloria for a choir of only women and girls who presumably sung the lower register notes up an octave.”
The manuscript of Gloria turned up in the 1920s, along with another Vivaldi Gloria in D Major, that is far less played. Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot speculates that Vivaldi’s wrote his Gloria in 1716, possibly celebrating a Venetian victory over the Turks in the sixth war between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The first modern performance of this truly glorious work took place on September 20, 1939. The instrumentation—oboe, trumpet, strings, and basso continuo—is quite common for Vivaldi’s works written for the Pietà. The stellar oboist Debra Nagy, and the excellent trumpet player, Jesse Levine deserve thanks. The impressive continuo players, cellist Sarah Freiburg along with the organist, Noriko Yasuda also impressed.
Masterworks Chorale and the period orchestra performed Vivaldi enthusiastically, and very well (I loved the trumpet and oboe). But the real stars of the evening were the three outstanding solo singers—Teresa Wakim and Sarah Yanovitch, sopranos, and Julia Soon Cavallaro, mezzo-soprano. “Dixit Dominus” found Teresa Wakim in superb voice; in Virgam virtutis and in Dominos a dextris her melismas delighted. In the Gloria, Laudamus te featured Wakim in a lovely duet with Sarah Yanovitch. Julia Soojin Cavallaro sang exquisitely all evening. Masterworks and friends made it abundantly clear why audiences love Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Masterworks Chorale’s next concert is in Old South Church, Boston, on Sunday, March 1, 2020. They will perform Ernest Bloch’s “Sacred Service” with baritone Ian Pomerantz and organist Ross Wood.
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.