Venice by Night
Albinoni, Lotti, Pollarolo, Porta, Veracini, Vivaldi
Mhairi Lawson, soprano
Simon Munday, trumpet
Peter Whelan, bassoon
The aim of this wonderful recording is to invite the listener to a journey around Venice, drawing his or her attention to the spectacular artistic flourishing of the last century of “La Serenissima”.
Despite the political decadence of the last maritime republic, it must have been extraordinary to live there in the 18th century for an artist or a musician. While Canaletto and Guido Guardi represented in their paintings the city’s glorious and colourful triumphalism or its thoughtful serenity, an incredible roster of composers – the most important being Antonio Vivaldi – enlivened the city on the lagoon with their joyful melodies.
Venice by Night: Music of All Kinds
Music for Official Ceremonies
There was music of all kinds in Venice. First of all, there is the pompous music of official occasions. When some illustrious visitor came to the city, it was custom to present him or her with some music. Composers as Tomaso Albinoni wrote several celebratory works. One of them, the Sinfonia for strings and continuo in G minor for the visit of Frederick Augustus of Saxony, is part of the present recording.
Operatic music was one of the main attractions of the city which saw the opening of the first public theatre (San Cassiano) in 1637. Venice was one of the cities of the Italian peninsula which was more interested in opera. One of the most magnificent seasons was – as Ann Hallenberg reminds us in her amazing album – that of Carnival 1729, with the contemporary presence of many renowned composers and singers.
The present recording brings together excerpts from two operas written by Vivaldi, L’Olimpiade (1734) and Motezuma (1733).
Sacred music is a genre that has a glorious tradition in Venice, dating back to the years of Claudio Merulo, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi. In Venice by Night, sacred music includes Veracini’s Fuga, o capriccio a 4 soggetti and Lotti’s Alma ride exulta mortalis. Both works were performed during the last service of the day (Compline).
At last, Venice by Night offers some popular songs. These are called “Canzoni da battello” because they were sung in a peola (a large gondola). Only few collections of them survive, but they are large enough to give an idea of the satirical and buoyant spirit of Venetian occasional music.
Venice by Night: The Programme
A programme like this, although strictly connected by the fact that its music was written for the same city at the same time, could have been dispersive, but fortunately each section is carefully indicated in the booklet.
Venice by Night is divided as the itinerary of a sightseer who arrives to the city after sunset and visits all the places where music was played. Music begins with the visitor’s Arriving by gondola with the anonymous canzone da battello Si la gondola avere, then continues in an aristocratic house to listen to A Private Concert with music by Pollarolo and Albinoni. After that, the visitor goes to church for Compline and then to the Ospedale della Pietà, a famous place where Vivaldi taught music to the foundling girls recovered there. The journey ends at The Opera House.
In this way, each musical genre is exhaustively and coherently explored.
Venice by Night: The Performance
The Ensemble La Serenissima
As for the performance, the listener-tourist of Venice by Night is in good hands. The ensemble La Serenissima, led by Adrian Chandler, plays superbly and gives depth and vibrancy to light Baroque works as Pollarolo’s delightful, amusing Sinfonia to La vendetta d’amore, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Bassoon, Strings and Continuo in C (RV477), Veracini’s animated Fuga or to the refined and bright motet Alma ride.
Some of the most remarkable pieces are at the end of the album. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin, Strings and Continuo in E minor (RV278) and Giovanni Porta’s Sinfonia for Trumpet, Strings and Continuo in D are particularly outstanding. The former is the only, truly “nocturnal” piece of the collection as its rather sombre colours, especially in comparison with the shining pieces around it. In particular in the final Allegro, where the fabulous violin widely and finely describes the nervous atmosphere, its agitated character is quite effective.
The Sinfonia is a completely different matter and the joyful sound of the trumpet, played by Simon Munday, is lively and energetic above the colourful and delightful orchestra. This is the first time that this work is recorded.
There are several vocal works – both sacred and secular – in Venice by Night, all performed by soprano Mhairi Lawson. Overall, the short songs do not present any particular difficulty, but Lawson sings them with the same consideration of the most complex works. Lawson is a very fine singer who infuses grace and gentleness to the many songs and motets. This happens in the lovely Si la gondola avere, which she sings with the abandon of a lullaby but also with the humour of someone who wants to deceive someone else. Cara Nina el bon to sesto is even more amusing and the text seems written precisely for a soprano with Lawson’s humorous temperament.
It is the purity and the simple but elegant beauty of Venetian music that Venice by Night widely and profusely explores. Thanks to the fine performances of the ensemble La Serenissima and of soprano Mhairi Lawson, the listener will spend a pleasant hour with some beautiful and unfortunately neglected music which will be a delight to rediscover.