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Giovanni Domenico FERRANDINI (1709 - 1791): "Cantate drammatiche"

Olivia Vermeulen, mezzo-sopranoa
Harmonie Universelle
Dir: Florian Deuter

rec: Dec 1 - 4, 2010, Cologne, Studio Stolberger Straße
Accent - ACC 24277 (© 2014) (62'13")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores cantatas

All'apparir della vermiglia aurora (Cantata III); Dell'idol mio trafitto (Cantata IV); Pastorale (Sinfonia in D); Sinfonia in B flat; Tinte a note di sangue (Cantata I)

Florian Deuter, Mónica Waisman, Margret Baumgartl, Laura Johnson, Lilia Slavny, Katja Grüttner, violin; Sara Hubrich, Stefan Schmidt, viola; Jennifer Hardy, cello; Miriam Shalinsky, double bass; Johanna Seitz, harp; Michael Dücker, theorbo; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord

In an indirect way the life and career of Giovanni Domenico Ferrandini (*), an Italian-born composer who worked for many years in Germany, connects Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Ferrandini was just 13 years of age when he travelled to Munich with his father, and since then he played a role in the court chapel. He taught the children of his employer, and one of them was Maria Antonia Walpurgis who developed into a gifted composer, painter and poet. In the latter quality she wrote texts which Ferrandini set to music. One of the cantatas on this disc has a text by her - the others could also be from her pen - which date from the time she was Electress of Saxony. In 1747 she had married Friedrich Christian for whom Johann Sebastian Bach had written Herkules am Scheidewege, a dramma per musica (BWV 213) at the occasion of his birthday. Ferrandini had another pupil who is better-known today than Maria Antonia Walpurgis: Anton Raaff, the tenor who participated in many opera performances, and sang his last role in Mozart's Idomeneo.

For a long time Ferrandini was hardly more than a footnote in history. That changed when it was discovered that he was the composer of Il Pianto di Maria, a cantata which previously was attributed to Handel. That work is performed regularly and is available in various recordings. It has several features which also turn up in other vocal works and in instrumental compositions from his pen. Among them is an adventurous treatment of harmony and a strong expression of the emotions in the texts he set to music. The three cantatas recorded here are telling specimens of his style.

They are part of a set of six for soprano, strings and bc under the title Cantate con Istromenti which have been preserved in the Dresden State Library. Maria Antonia was a seasoned author of dramatic texts: she had written several opera libretti which were corrected by the most famous opera librettist of the time, Pietro Metastasio. She set two of them to music herself and handed over to Johann Adolf Hasse the libretto of an oratorio. In 1747 she was accepted into the Roman Accademia dell'Arcadia.

Tinte a note di sangue (Cantata I) comprises two recitative-aria pairs. It is about a lover speaking to the absent beloved who has betrayed him. Especially in the first recitative his feelings are exposed through frequent modulations. In the second recitative and aria he distances himself from his former beloved. The next cantata, All'apparir della vermiglia aurora (Cantata III) is notable for its text. It is about a sunflower who is the victim of the rose and the lily and of the violet and jasmine which look down on her because she is not as beautiful as they are and doesn't smell as lovely as they do. In the first aria she acknowledges her 'poverty', and she does so in a true lament in which the text is graphically exposed in the music. In the next recitative and aria she counters by saying that beauty and smell are short-lived. She has a different quality: constancy. As this is a returning subject in cantatas of the 18th century it becomes clear that this text is in fact a metaphore: the constancy of the sunflower (the lover) versus the fickleness and idleness of the rivals. In his liner-notes Karl Böhmer believes that in this cantata Maria Antoni Walpurgis who was not considered beautiful, criticised "the smug conduct of the court beauties". He may be right, but that is impossible to prove - we don't know even for sure that she is the author of the text.

That is different with the Cantata IV, Dell'idol mio trafitto which is the most dramatic of the three. It consists of two arias, separated by a recitative. In the first aria the protagonist wanders in the dark believing to hear the voice of her beloved who accuses her of believing him to be unfaithful to her. The recitative begins secco but halfway the strings enter, which has a strongly dramatic effect. This prepares for the closing aria which begins with the phrase: "May the thunderbolts flash, my heart does not even fear the most ominous storms". In this cantata Ferrandini uses all kinds of effects, especially in the strings, to expose the feelings of the protagonist.

These don't quite come off, I'm afraid. The playing is too tame; there should have been a much stronger attack. There are too few dynamic accents and the tempo seems also a little too slow. The other cantatas are more convincing, and especially the more quiet episodes are done quite well. Olivia Vermeulen has a good feeling for this repertoire, but I had expected more from her in the last cantata. Moreover she uses too much vibrato and the recitatives are rhythmically too strict.

On balance this is definitely a disc which is worth investigating. It sheds light on a composer whose oeuvre deserves to be thoroughly explored.

(*) In New Grove the Christian names of Ferrandini are given as Giovanni Battista. I have not been able to find out the reasons for this difference.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Olivia Vermeulen
Harmonie Universelle

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