The recently discovered "Andromeda Liberata" may or may not be by Vivaldi--let the musicologists fight it out--but either way, it deserves to be heard, and heard as performed by this group on this recording. Without them, this beautiful music would have gone unperformed.
I had the pleasure of being in Boston's Jordan Hall for the first North American performance of "Andromeda" (November 27, 2004) and the Venice Baroque Orchestra was better than great! Richard Dyer, the hard-to-please music critic of the Boston Globe called it "... the early-music event of the season, a triumph for the work and the performers, and the audience applauded and shouted." Yes, we did; we also whistled and stamped.
This recording captures that performance vividly. The singing is exceptional. The two leads, Andromeda and Perseus, are sung by Simone Kermes and Max Cencic. Both are less well known in the United States than they should be, but this recording and their US tour will help repair that. Both are highly skilled in the baroque tradition and their vocal embellishments raise this performance to another level. As lovers of baroque opera know too well, it is one thing to embellish, but another to do it with art and taste. Simone and Max are exquisite vocalists. Both singers brought the house down more than once in the Boston performance--hear why on this recording.
Among many things to notice: the Vivaldi-esque interplay of woodwinds and lutes; at times it is chillingly beautiful. Both oboists and lutenists play original instruments and the sound is mellow and lush. Critic Dyer called the lute work by Ivano Zanenghi and Evangelina Mascardi "ravishing," and I think he understated it. But, in fact the whole Orchestra plays beautifully.
After the performance over drinks (tea for the vocalists) Julian Fifer (the manager of the group and founder of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra) and Andrea Marcon (the conductor) told us the back story. Apparently the Venice Baroque was on a bus in Japan and on the same bus was the discoverer of this lost masterpiece, Olivier Foures. He just happened (!) to have the score with him; Fifer and Marcon looked it over and decided on the spot that this was music that needed to be heard.
Apparently the label was hesitant to record it inasmuch as it had not been authenticated (it still hasn't been), and recordings like this are costly to produce; but Fifer and Marcon twisted arms and triumphed in the end. The result is here to be heard.
My only regret about this CD set is that you will not be able to hear alto Marijana Mijanovic, (now referred to in Boston as "La Eleganza") who sang with amazing intensity and eloquent decoration, and whose low register was like shining, dark chocolate. Unfortunately she was not one of the original cast, but that, friends, is one more reason to support live performances.
So who wrote Andromeda? There is diverse evidence, and a seeming variety of compositional mannerisms on display. To cite an extreme example, there is a very noticeable decorative figure at the opening of Andromeda that sounds as if were lifted out of the French baroque of Charpentier or Lully.
Not likely. Vivaldi was nine when Lully died in 1687, and while Charpentier lasted until 1704, Andromeda dates from 1726.
So one can be misled by mannerism, and like much of the evidence that Vivaldi didn't write Andromeda, the meaning of this figuration is ambiguous. In the end, according to Fifer, it turns out to be a musical pun on the name of the man in whose honor Andromeda was composed, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.
Personally, I think Vivaldi did write "Andromeda," or at least most of it, but it hardly matters. This is glorious music performed by a committed group of informed and eloquent musicians. Revel in it.