The Lucerne Festival presented a Baroque concert dedicated to Venice and Naples, with sacred music by Antonio Vivaldi and Giambattista Pergolesi: two motets by Vivaldi and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – together with Vivaldi’s concert for flute and orchestra La notte.

Cecilia Bartoli, Gianluca Capuano, Carlo Vistoli and Les Musiciens du Prince
© Peter Fischli | Lucerne Festival

The two Vivaldi motets presented in Lucerne have a structure similar to a concerto for solo and orchestra: they are comprised by two arias, divided by a recitativo, with a final “Alleluja”. The first one, Clarae stellae, scintillate, for alto, two violins, viola and basso continuo, has a first aria in A-B-A structure, with a sweet uplifting melody in ternary tempo, and a second aria in three stanzas, with a decided dance-like quality and more challenging coloratura. Countertenor Carlo Vistoli gave a beautiful rendition, showing very good high notes, and a warm, round timbre. The centre of his voice was perhaps a little weak, but I have heard him several times now and my personal impression is that his voice is getting better and better. He gave us some very daring variations, and a perfect coloratura.

Enter Cecilia Bartoli. The second motet, In furore iustissimae irae could very well have been written for her. It features a first A-B-A aria in typical “furore” Vivaldian style (as the title suggests), with all the coloratura pitfalls that she is famous for performing with laser-clear quality. She delivered, with gusto. The orchestra, particularly in this first aria, was spectacular. The dynamics were imaginative and not obvious; Gianluca Capuano transported Les Musiciens du Prince in a vortex of Baroque excitement. The following recitative was heart-melting and sweet, a tiny jewel that Bartoli gifted us as an anticipation of the second aria, slow and mellow, where her legato and phrasing shone bright, before the exciting “Alleluja”. Having said all this, and as much as Bartoli’s voice is my guiding light in these dark times, the second aria was a bit high for her. At times I found myself wishing that the melody would take her down to the bronze and the velvet that we know is there. It’s not like she showed effort, it’s just that her voice is more beautiful in its middle register.

An instrumental concerto followed: La notte for flute and orchestra. This is part of a set of six concertos (Op.10) which Vivaldi published in 1728. Flautist Jean-Marc Goujon was inspiring in the first Largo and dazzling in the following Fantasmi (ghosts) movement. 

Pergolesi's famous Stabat Mater was performed last. Capuano took a very slow tempo in the first movement, which is always a risk, but it paid off. The orchestra was relentless in the heart-breaking dissonances opening the work, and both Bartoli and Vistoli had the breath control needed. The result was a very emotional beginning, which continued in a deeply felt interpretation. Highlights included the duet O quam tristis et afflicta, where the Neapolitan sun seemed to shine on the Madonna’s grief; the fugue Fac, ut ardeat cor meum, precise and powerful,  and duet Sancta Mater, istud agas where the violins sounded like they were weeping. The absolute gem of the performance was the aria Vidit suum dulcem natum, where Bartoli gave us Christ’s death on the cross as if it were happening in front of our eyes, her filati and her pianissimo interrupted by a sigh which was his last breath. Capuano took a long pause after this, and the Lucerne audience managed to remain still for all of it. It was magic.

The concert concluded with three generous encores. Bartoli took the stage with Goujon for “Sol da te, mio dolce amore”, Ruggiero’s aria from Vivaldi’s Orlando furioso, which features a long flute introduction, and gave both performers a chance to shine. Vistoli then sang Cum dederit from Vivaldi’s Nisi dominum, showing excellent phrasing in the unusual melody. The third encore was very interesting. Johan Sebastian Bach, as the highest possible form of praise, set the music of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater as a cantata: Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, where he adjusted the counterpoint to more standard (older) Baroque canon. The final “Amen” was performed, where Bach, after presenting the Amen in Pergolesi’s short, almost brutal form, in minor key, followed with the same melody in major key, for a “more effective” and stronger ending, according to his sensibility.