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Alessandro SCARLATTI, Antonio CALDARA: "Appena chiudo gli occhi - Cantatas for solo voice with violin"

Giuseppina Bridelli, mezzo-soprano
Quartetto Vanvitelli

rec: June 29 - 4 July 2020, Mezzano Scotti (Piacenza), Chiesa di San Paolo
Arcana - A487 (© 2021) (76'57")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Caldara
Scores Scarlatti

Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Innocente cor mio [2]; Vicino a un rivoletto [3]; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Appena chiudo gli occhi (Il sogno) (H 56); Dove fuggo? A che penso? (H 212); Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753): Allettamento da camera in d minor, op. 8,1 [1]

Sources: [1] Giuseppe Valentini, Allettamenti da camera a violino e violoncello o cembalo, op. 8, 1714; Antonio Caldara, [2] Cantate a voce sola con violini e senza, 1719; [3] Duodeci cantate con istromenti, 1729

Gian Andrea Guerra, violin; Nicola Brovelli, cello; Mauro Pinciaroli, archlute; Luigi Accardo, harpsichord, organ

The genre of the chamber cantata is one of the most important of the Italian Baroque. It was this kind of composition which was used to entertain aristocrats in their private chambers or during their social gatherings. Rome was an especially fruitful environment for the composition of such cantatas, as there were many aristocrats who organised weekly 'academies' in their palaces. Some even had their own chapel to perform music on a regular basis. Most of Alessandro Scarlatti's cantatas have been written for performances in the palaces of the likes of the Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili and Prince Ruspoli.

Scarlatti composed a large amount of such cantatas; the estimated number varies from around 600 to over 800. Most were scored for solo voice and basso continuo. The vocal part was mostly for soprano, some for alto; the singers were usually castratos. Scarlatti's cantatas were considered a model and it was he who established the form of the chamber cantata as a sequence of two recitatives, each followed by an aria. But Scarlatti also composed a number of cantatas with additional instruments, usually two violins. The present disc is especially interesting in that it includes two cantatas with an obbligato part for one violin. This results in a different balance, compared with the usual two violins. The latter's role is restricted to that of an accompaniment, and often they play just the ritornellos in arias. In the two cantatas included here, the violin is much more an equal partner to the voice, and arias are often close to duets for voice and violin. The latter actively takes part in the illustration of the text and the communication of the affetti of an aria.

In Dove fuggo? A che penso? it even plays a part in some recitatives. In the fourth aria, which follows attacca the preceding accompanied recitative, the violin acts as the echo and the answer the text speaks about: "[The] merciful echo will answer" (A), "[A] doleful voice will reply" (B). The last aria ends with the phrase "la sua vita finirŕ" - her life will end, and here the voice breaks off abruptly; there is no ritornello. This piece is an example of a cantata, in which Scarlatti derives from the standard form, in that he extends the number of recitative-aria pairs from two to four. The second cantata, Appena chiudo gli occhi (also called Il sogno), which gave this disc its title and which closes it, is also different. It comprises two pairs of recitative and aria, but it opens with a sinfonia in two sections for violin and basso continuo. This sinfonia could easily be part of a violin sonata. The first aria is pathetic, the second agitated, and in both the violin plays a substantial role. The whole cantata is harmonically rather unsettling, especially in the first of the two arias.

Whereas Scarlatti's cantatas are frequently performed and recorded, and some are pretty well-known, Caldara's cantatas are seldom performed, and that goes for his entire oeuvre, by the way. He is certainly a composer whose importance is not fully recognized yet. He worked for some time in Rome, where most of his cantatas were written, in Barcelona, and lastly at the imperial court in Vienna. It makes much sense to bring Caldara and Scarlatti together in one programme, not only because they were contemporaries, but also because they must have met in Rome, when they were active there at about the same time. When in 1708 a cycle of oratorios was performed in the palaces of Cardinal Ottoboni and Marquis Ruspoli, among them Handel's La Resurrezione, both contributed several works to this series of events.

The two cantatas included here are both taken from collections of twelve cantatas each, written during Caldara's time in Vienna. Here the composer strictly follows the standard set by Scarlatti: two arias, each of them preceded by a recitative. He also confines the role of the violin to partnering the voice in the arias; the recitatives are unaccompanied. Vicino a un rivoletto is among Caldara's best-known works; the violin has an obbligato role in the first aria, but in the second Caldara turns to the cello, the instrument that he had learned to play in his youth. In his later years he was to compose some sonatas for the cello, and several of his vocal works include arias with an obbligato cello part. In Innocente cor mio the violin is the only obbligato instrument. The collection from which it is taken, was dedicated to Prince Frederick August of Saxony, a token of the many contacts of Caldara across Europe and a testimony of his reputation.

In between we get an instrumental work, the Alettamento da camera in d minor for violin and basso continuo from the Op. 8 by Giuseppe Valentini, a composer born in Florence, who had settled in Rome at least as early as 1692. There he was a pupil of Giovanni Bononcini. He played a leading role as a violinist and maestro di cappella in Rome after the death of Corelli. The sonata performed here, in five movements, is from the last printed edition of Valentini's works. Interestingly, Enrico Careri, in New Grove, states that one reason why he did not publish any more music after his Op. 8, is that he at that time had established himself. It shows that the publication of music was often meant as a recommendation for a musical position.

Giuseppina Bridelli has made a name for herself in the performance and recording of music from the baroque era. Her biography in the booklet does not mention whether she also participates in performances of later repertoire. Her voice is undoubtedly perfectly suited for the dramatic repertoire by Italian composers. I heard her on a disc with opera arias by Handel and Porpora ("Duel"), which I appreciated, although there were some issues, for instance that her low register is not very strong. That is also an issue here: Caldara's cantata Vicino a un rivoletto is scored for an alto voice; it has been recorded before by two of her male colleagues, René Jacobs and Gérard Lesne. It is the least convincing part of this disc, as the cantata's range is clearly too low for her voice. The other cantatas come off much better. I greatly appreciate the way she sings the recitatives, which are really dramatic; here she also takes the necessary rhythmic freedom I so often miss in this kind of recordings. She sometimes uses a bit too much vibrato, but overall I am quite happy with her performances, also because I really like her voice. However, in the dacapos she takes too much freedom in the ornamentation department.

The playing of the ensemble leaves nothing to be desired. I have heard this ensemble several times on disc, and each time I was impressed by their engaging style of playing. That is the case here as well. The obbligato parts in the cantatas are excellently executed, and violinist Gian Andrea Guerra substantially contributes to the expression in these cantatas. The basso continuo is a driving force. Valentini's sonata is a nice piece that makes curious about other parts of his oeuvre. What about a disc with his sonatas, by this ensemble?

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Giuseppina Bridelli
Quartetto Vanvitelli

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