I have to say that Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria (RV 589) is among my favorite works of sacred music. The first recording I heard of it was the one with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his period instrument ensemble Concentus musicus Wien on the label Elatus. What really caught my attention was the Gloria-movement that opens the work. The swift tempo and excellent playing were addicting to the ear and I listened to it quite often. However, the rest of the work didn’t strike the same string in me.
After a while I found out that Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin in the Fields had made a recording of the work for EMI. From the start until the end I found it a revelation. Not only did the tempo of the Gloria-movement sound just right–neither exaggeratingly fast nor boringly slow–but the rest of the work was more engaging in this recording. As an example take the last movement, Cum Sancto Spiritu, which in Marriner’s vision is more cohesive and with more forward momentum. I suspect it’s played a bit faster than it was ment to be, but the execution is pulled off so admirably that it doesn’t sound a second too fast.
The Academy actually recorded the Gloria once earlier, just a few years after the chamber orchestra was formed. This time with Sir David Willcocks as conductor and Marriner as the leader. Now reissued on Decca Legends, it too is a good recording of the work but with markedly slower tempi than Marriner’s some decades later.
Last, there’s the odd one out. One day while I listened to the radio, I heard a preposterously fast interpretation of the Gloria-movement. It was with Concerto Italiano conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini on the Naive label. Although incredibly fast, it’s excellently played and a joy to listen to. After digesting this interpretation of the Gloria-movement, Harnoncourt’s actually sounds… not slow, but certainly not too fast.
In 2009, Alessandrini re-recorded the Gloria (RV 589) with the same period instrument ensemble on the same label. His interpretations are still very fast, but the Gloria is a bit slower than his previous take. When he probably held the world record of fastest Gloria in excelsis Deo ever recorded, he possibly wanted to moderate some of the speeds. But only slightly. Also, in this new recording the instruments are tuned a semitone higher than in the previous one, making the staccatos in the opening bars sound less ominous. Both recordings by Alessandrini are quite virtuosic and very recommendable, as is Marriner’s, Harnoncourt’s, and Willcocks’ in their different ways.
Have a Glorious New Year.