Better known for instrumental virtuosity, Antonio Vivaldi was also a prolific composer for the voice. In a well-designed program, Harry Christophers and the Handel and Haydn Society celebrated Vivaldi’s distinctive way with sacred vocal music.
Vivaldi’s Gloria, RV 589 is a grandly operatic liturgical setting ranging from extroverted splendor to a more inward expressivity. The quieter moments are often the more memorable.
In the haunting “Et in terra pax,” the H&H Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus (bolstered by the Young Women’s Chamber Choir) dug into the surprising dissonances to convey the music’s tense power.
Grander sections, like the opening “Gloria” or the closing fugal “Cum Sancto Spiritu,” were rendered with an oceanic sweep. Yet Christophers’s careful balances maintained a unified ensemble blend.
If Vivaldi’s treatment of the solo voice can lack the flair of his instrumental writing, a group of fine soloists nonetheless made a strong impression.
The second half of the concert allowed the audience to compare Handel’s somewhat warmer approach to sacred music.
The Foundling Hospital Anthem was put together for charitable purposes, and a certain large-heartedness pervades the music. Christophers elicited a superbly full-voiced reading from the H&H Chorus. One of the highlights of the evening came in “The people will tell of their wisdom,” a radiant duet in which sopranos Margot Rood and Brenna Wells savored Handel’s lustrous harmonies.
The savvy Handel recycled his “Hallelujah” chorus to close the Anthem. The surprise of hearing the “Hallelujah” out of context was furthered by an arrestingly brawny performance; if Christophers drove the music a bit hard, he did make it sound, somehow, fresh.
Earlier, in a clever programming inversion, a Handel overture (to the oratorio Saul) led off the Vivaldi half, while a Vivaldi sinfonia (from the opera Dorilla in Tempe) began the Handel half. Each allowed us to admire the characteristic finesse of the H&H orchestra.
Both halves of the concert also presented a short sacred work for soprano and orchestra: Vivaldi’s Ostro picta, armata spina preceded the Gloria, Handel’s Salve Regina the Anthem. Nathalie Paulin used her elegant soprano expressively; her coloratura, slightly unfocused at first, grew steadily crisper.
In the admirable tradition of H&H community outreach, the evening commenced with an exuberant performance by the Collaborative Youth Concert choruses; led by John Finney in Handel’s “Let their celestial concerts all unite,” a group of talented local high-school singers put their own stamp of freshness on a Handel classic.