This very attractive release from Channel Classics features the terrific British period instrument ensemble Florilegium in performances of three Vivaldi concertos and two sacred vocal works. The group plays without a conductor and the players' shapely unanimity of phrasing and nuanced expressiveness give the performances the character of chamber music. It sidesteps the metric squareness that can plague performances of Vivaldi and let the music breathe and surge organically. The strings have the slight tartness of Baroque instruments and the overall sound of the orchestra has an appealing burnished sheen. This is relatively obscure repertoire and includes a flute concerto that was only discovered in 2010 and is recorded here for the first time, played beautifully by Ashley Solomon, the artistic director of Florilegium.
Soprano Elin Manahan Thomas is highly effective in the psalm setting Laudate Pueri and the motet Nulla in mundo. She sings with absolutely unmannered spontaneity and naturalness. Manahan Thomas' voice has an astonishing clarion purity that's nowhere more evident than in "A solis ortu" from Laudate Pueri, in which her sound is piercingly clean and intense. The only blemish in her performance is in the final movement of the motet where in the outrageously demanding melismas her intonation goes very noticeably astray. This may be sacred music, but Vivaldi's vocal lines are anything but austere; they have a ravishing, sinuous lyricism that's as sensual as anything in his operas. The sound of the hybrid SACD is immaculate and natural. Anyone who knows Vivaldi only as the composer of The Four Seasons should take advantage of this disc's offerings of the varied (and vastly more interesting) music he was capable of producing.