Adrian Chandler has recently completed a two-year post as Turner Sims Professor at the University of Southampton and therefore it was highly appropriate that his concert tour for this all-Vivaldi programme should stop off at the Turner Sims concert hall in this their 40th anniversary season. Formed by Chandler in 1994, La Serenissima have made their career’s work performing and recording Vivaldi’s lesser known work and this thoughtful concert was very much in that mould. Entitled “Vivaldi’s Sacred Oeuvre”, it was a very full programme and a beautifully balanced one.

La Serenissima © Benjamin Harte (2011)
La Serenissima
© Benjamin Harte (2011)

As something of a warm-up, we started with the Concerto for strings and continuo in D RV 123 which unusually for the time featured no soloists but alone in all the evening’s works, highlighted some delicate playing from the viola section. Chandler explained that Vivaldi re-worked his Concerto per la Solennità di S. Lorenzo score and dedicated it as Concerto per la Signora Anna Maria, a well-known pupil of Vivaldi who later became leader of the Pietà’s orchestra. The first movement featured extensive use of “spiccato”, the light bouncing of the bow on the strings which underpinned Chandler’s bright and eloquent phrasing, culminating in the lively final movement.

Particular highlights of the evening were the pair of dramatic motets for soprano, strings and continuo, both describing stormy seas and hope for a safe landing. Apparently, the Pope had received them furiously, branding them as turning the church into an opera house; it is easy to see why, as the pieces demand a wide vocal range and florid coloratura and a hence a marked change from the Pietà singers associated with many of Vivaldi’s works. Soprano Mhairi Lawson did them full justice, with control, seemingly effortless agility and soaring lines. Her diction in the recitative was particularly clear and expressive, aided by the classy continuo trio of Lynda Sayce (theorbo), James Johnstone (concert organ) and Gareth Deats (cello). The total understanding between singer and orchestra was obvious and the well regulated balance between solo voice and accompaniment served the pieces extremely well.

After the storms, the calm – a Concerto Madrigalesco which despite its title is a brief, solemn work for a church service, not exactly memorable but in programming terms a useful interlude before a lively Concerto finale (RV 307) and another chance to savour Chandler’s flair and precision, as befits the original purpose of this and many similar works, namely to attract audiences to hear virtuoso violinists and to provide a not unwelcome source of revenue. Not so very different in the 21st century then, and a real treat to hear this seldom-heard repertoire from such an authoritative, enthusiastic and accomplished partnership.