Considering how much music the industrious Vivaldi wrote, one should not be surprised when Julia Lezhneva's new album Alleluia opens with what sounds like a snatch from his Four Seasons.

The bristling string workout is, in fact, the introduction to a motet, In furore iustissimae irae, one of four on the disc, alongside similar pieces by Handel, Porpora and Mozart.

In these times, when record companies search desperately for a concept to hang an album around, this is a clever one, with each motet taking the Russian soprano along a path of spiritual redemption to a celebratory Alleluia.

You are hooked from the start. Il Giardino Armonico is a top-flight Baroque band while conductor Giovanni Antonini, the baton behind Cecilia Bartoli's recent Norma, is a stickler for high-tensile pacing, with the rhythmic snap of the crustiest Italian bread.


Lezhneva's individual voice was already apparent two years ago on her debut CD. Not only did her ornamentation have a lightness and rightness, but she delineated drama where others might have merely unfurled passagework.

Alleluia shares the same virtues, with the distinctly Slavic tint of her voice imbuing Vivaldi's entreaties with a touching plaintiveness, until all is resolved in a joyous Alleluia.

Every Alleluia comes with its own character. Handel's dances in triplets, with piquant woodwind; Porpora's is in brisk triple time, with Lezhneva a trilling, fluttering bird.

Mozart's Alleluia completes the best-known work on the disc, his Exsultate Jubilate K 165; here Lezhneva conveys a freshness and vitality that fits with this delightful specimen of the composer's teenage genius.

The same naturalness is there in Handel's Saeviat Tellus Inter Rigores, a motet that dates from the years when the young composer was enjoying the Mediterranean climate and lifestyle of Italy.

One can imagine the effect of the aria O nox dulcis on the pleasure-loving cardinals who commissioned such works. Lezhneva has explained, in somewhat insecure English, that she sees the singer as a good angel trying to save everyone from Lucifer and his storms. With singing like this she deserves a place in Heaven alongside Michael and Gabriel themselves.

Classic CD

Julia Lezhneva Alleluia (Decca)

Verdict: "Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva's second CD deserves a rousing chorus of Alleluias"

Rating: 5/5