Hervé Niquet first established himself in the domain of historically informed performance as a member of William Christie’s Les Arts florissants, in which he sang tenor. His studies had included harpsichord, composition, conducting, and opera singing; and, prior to joining Les Arts florissants in 1985, he had served as choir master at the Paris Opera. In 1987 he left Christie to found his own ensemble, Le Concert Spirituel, whose initial mission was to perform French grand motets from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
According to his Wikipedia page, Niquet built up an impressive discography for this repertoire on a variety of significant labels. However, he recently moved to the French Alpha Classics label. This month saw his first release following that move, which also resulted a shift in repertoire focus. That shift has been from France to Italy with what appears to be his first recording of sacred music by Antonio Vivaldi.
Vivaldi’s sacred music is not as extensive as his instrumental music. His best known work in this genre is the RV 589 (from the Ryom-Verzeichnis catalog created by Peter Ryom, which is now accepted as the standard authority) setting of the Gloria text from the Mass. Vivaldi composed at least three settings of this text, one of which is presumed lost. RV 589 is much better known than RV 588. Dates have not been determined for either version, but it is assumed that they were composed during Vivaldi’s employment at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice.
RV 589 is the first selection on Niquet’s new recording. The other major work is a setting of the Magnificat hymn. This went through several revisions, and Niquet chose to record the RV 610a version, The album also includes two single-movement motet settings, “Laetatus sum” (RV 607) and “Lauda Jerusalem” (RV 609). Both of these were probably written for Vespers and conclude (as does the Magnificat) with the Gloria Patri doxology.
In all of these compositions, Vivaldi’s treatment of the text was straightforward. His priority seems to have been that the congregation pay attention to the words, rather than to ornately virtuoso accounts of individual syllables. Vivaldi was, after all, a Catholic priest; and it is not surprising that he could separate his “performance” as a priest from his virtuoso performances on the violin!
Niquet thus follows Vivaldi’s lead with a straightforward account of the music. The vocalists in his chorus have excellent diction, which is always clear when they sing as an ensemble. The instrumental work is there primarily in a supportive capacity, but it is nice to listen to the deep sounds of a lute as part of the continuo. If this new album is a foretaste of Niquet’s approach to the Italian baroque, then there is good reason to hope that future releases will pursue further exploration of this domain.