Sacred Vivaldi at Church of the Ascension

In its first concert back at the newly-renovated Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue at 10th Street, the Voices of Ascension Chorus & Orchestra directed by Dennis Keene presented an evening of Vivaldi on Thursday night, offering up the Gloria RV 588, Laetatus sum RV 607, and Magnificat RV 610, punctuated by a performance of the famous Concerto in C for Two Trumpets, RV 537.  The 24-member chorus and 13-member instrumental ensemble were joined by a handful of vocal soloists for this program.

Given the size of the performing forces and the relatively small church, with its nicely-focused acoustics, this was an ideal setting in which to hear the music.  Although the orchestra used modern instruments, trumpet soloists Kevin Cobb and Thomas Hoyt appeared to be using small Baroque trumpets, and Dennis Keene had them all performing with awareness of historically-informed practice.

Vivaldi's sacred music was virtually unknown outside of Italy until the baroque revival that got under way during the middle of the last century, and is still not as well known as it should be.  Vivaldi did not shed the rhythmic excitement and lyrical grace of his well-known secular concerto style when it came to writing sacred music.  These works are full of good tunes, lively rhythms, pleasant harmonic progressions, and a dramatic melding of text and music.  Keene's lively tempi suited the music perfectly, and I found the entire evening a pleasure to hear.  The string body might have been a bit larger at moments, but proved reasonably adequate.  (Several of the orchestra members were familiar from their participation in that great pool of freelance talent that swirls through the various classical performing venues in New York.  I saw familiar faces from the American Symphony Orchestra, for example, heard just a week ago in 20th century Spanish music…)

The vocal soloists were truly delightful, with a special nod to mezzo Silvie Jensen, who got a major share of the solo work in the Gloria and its associated introductory music (RV 639).  Her warm voice seemed just right to me.  Sopranos Martha Cluver and Elizabeth Baber were particularly lovely in the Esurientes duet in the Magnificat.  As usual with Vivaldi, who composed much of his sacred music for performance in the Venetian girls' orphanage that he served as music director for many years, there was not so much for the men to do, but tenor Drew Martin and bass Christopher Roselli made their marks in concerted numbers, and Martin had one nice solo in the Gloria.

I'm not a regular subscriber at Ascension, but every now and then they come up with a concert that I can't miss.  This one gave me a rare chance to hear a choral performance of a Vivaldi psalm, and how often can one hear that trumpet double concerto?  The performance was of the concerto was enthralling!

At the end of the program, so tumultuous was the audience response that Keene provided an encore, a movement for chorus and orchestra from Vivaldi's other Gloria (the more famous one).

As part of the building renovation project, the church had a grand new organ installed by a major French organ builder, and they are planning some special events to introduce it to the wider community.  (It can already be heard played by Keene at Sunday services.)  There will be a big concert at May 11 featuring Durufl

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