Vivaldi may be best remembered for his virtuosic concertos but, as anyone familiar with his famous D major Gloria will know, he also had a real ear for vocal sonorities. His only surviving oratorio, Juditha Triumphans
, has until recently been a well-kept secret. The biblical story of Judith overcoming Holofernes and his army (beheading him herself--no shrinking violet she) was popular with both librettists and composers, offering plenty of opportunities for exuberant tub-thumping. And these Vivaldi seizes eagerly, the opening rabble-rousing chorus (here preceded by a sinfonia reconstructed by Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot) setting the tone in truly martial fashion.
However, Juditha also abounds in reflective numbers, something at which Vivaldi excels. Perhaps the most striking examples are the ethereal "turtle dove" aria ("Veni sequere fida"), with our heroine beautifully accompanied by a chalumeau (a precursor of the clarinet); the tranquil "Vivat in pace" and the sublime "Umbrae carae", here lyrically sung by Marina Comparato. The all-female line-up (five solo characters plus, on this particular recording, an all-female chorus) is a strong one. And, vitally, the soloists are well differentiated, each with immediately recognisable timbres. Magdalena Kozena is fruity in the title role: not the kind of voice you'd necessarily associate with this repertoire, but turning a potentially smug heroine into one of real flesh and blood. Maria José Trullu is an opulent Holofernes while Anke Herrmann's Abra is attractively mellow voiced. Downers? Just one--the recorded sound, which is overly echoey. But overall this is a fine performance of a great work and one that deserves a place on the shelves of every lover of baroque music. --Harriet Smith