Nothing on the exterior packaging of this disc of Vivaldi choral works gives the potential buyer a clue as to the unusual quality of the performances of the celebrated Gloria, RV 589, the Magnificat, RV 610b, and other choral works contained therein. Conductor Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Choir and players set themselves the task of answering a puzzling question: given that these works were likely written for Vivaldi's all-girl choir at the Ospedale della Pietà, the orphanage where he served as music director, how were the tenor and bass parts performed? The girls were segregated from males, except for Vivaldi himself. The disc represents an attempt at an "authentic" reproduction of how the Ospedale choir sounded to its celebrated visitors, including the oversexed Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who apparently talked his way past the iron grillwork that separated the singers from the audience and wrote that he "felt a shiver of love such as I had never felt before." Rousseau and numerous other observers wrote about Vivaldi's choir, and none ever mentioned hearing women sing in unusually low voices. Parrott reasons, therefore, that the tenor and bass parts were transposed up an octave, resulting in a texture with two soprano and two alto parts, and that the usual SATB version was intended for sales to performers at other venues.
It's definitely odd hearing the Gloria sung this way; the voice parts cross, and the work's big soprano lines seem crowded. Still, the performance, which is interspersed with pieces of Gregorian chant, represents an interesting historical exercise. And the Magnificat, with more passages of homophonic texture, and some of the disc's single-movement pieces work much better. (Of course it's possible that Vivaldi devised different transposition solutions for different works.) The Taverner Choir adopts an airy tone that can easily enough be imagined to be that of a group of teenage girls. The same can't be said of the four soloists, mature singers whose sound contrasts sharply with that of the choir. Youthful, light-voiced singers would have been a better fit for Parrott's concept. Let the buyer sample and beware, but this is one Vivaldi Gloria that certainly stands out from the huge crowd of recordings of the work.