As a church musician in Salzburg, the young Mozart was required to turn out a regular diet of masses and settings of the Vespers and Litanies. Sung at afternoon services on feast days, the Litany was a favourite form of Catholic devotional music in the eighteenth century. In the first complete recordings of two such litanies, a quartet of English soloists make contributions notable for beauty of both line and tone. ‘Jennifer Vyvyan sings with pure tone, sensitivity and admirable phrasing’ was Gramophone’s verdict on her leading role in the Litaniae Lauretanae, KV 195, of 1774, and the more extensive Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento, KV 243, of 1776.
Like much of Mozart’s Salzburg church music, the Litaniae Lauretanae, KV 195 (not to be confused with his earlier setting of the same text, KV 109) is in a cheerful, Italianate style, indebted as much to dramatic gestures familiar from concert-hall and opera house as to the pleading or prayerful idiom of the cathedral. The line between sacred and secular is blurred in a gently lilting ‘Sancta Maria’, whose opening soprano solo is exquisitely floated by Vyvyan. She won critical acclaim early in her career for the poise and grace of her singing in Mozartian roles such as Constanze and Ilia which test the singer with precipitous leaps and florid embellishment. The opening solo of the concluding ‘Agnus Dei’ has a similarly flamboyant vocal line which Vyvyan sings here with ringing tone and vividly expressive attention to each phrase.
The most overtly operatic movements of KV 243 are the striding tenor aria ‘Panis vivus’, whose coloratura flourishes on ‘Miserere nobis’ make this just about the most joyous plea for mercy in existence, and the two soprano arias, ‘Dulcissimum convivium’ and ‘Agnus Dei’. In both, Vyvyan displays what The Daily Telegraph, in a review of the original LP, called her ‘serene artistry and soaring clarity of line’. She is joined by three colleagues who also made regular appearances on London’s operatic stages in the mid-1950s when these two LPs were first issued.
This album is one of five recordings released by Eloquence in September 2017 celebrating the art of Jennifer Vyvyan. All Decca recordings from the 1950s, many appearing for the first time on Decca CDs, they include ‘Mr. Bach at Vauxhall Gardens’ (ELQ4825387), the first recording of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (ELQ4827449), ‘Songs of England’ (ELQ4825045) and two litany settings by Mozart (ELQ4825041). Further Vyvyan recordings will appear in 2018.
‘Jennifer Vyvyan sings with pure tone, sensitivity and admirable phrasing, and William Herbert, everywhere excellent, darts up and down his scale passages with great agility … Anthony Lewis conducts the two works with perception, fervour and affection, and the recording gives a very good balance and string tone with a nice bloom on it.’ Gramophone, August 1955