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Antonio CALDARA (c1670 - 1736): La concordia de' pianeti

Veronica Cangemi (Diana), soprano; Ruxandra Donose (Giove), mezzo-soprano; Delphine Galou (Venere), contralto; Franco Fagioli (Apollo), Carlos Mena (Marte), alto; Daniel Behle (Mercurio), tenor; Luca Tittoto (Saturno), bass
Vokalensemble Basel; La Cetra Barockorchester
Dir: Andrea Marcon

rec: Jan 13 - 19, 2014, Dortmund, Konzerthaus
Archiv - 479 3356 (2 CDs) (© 2014) (1.48'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

For some centuries the imperial court in Vienna was one of the musical centres of Europe. The power of the rulers was reflected by the presence of some of the best performing musicians and composers at the court. Since the early 17th century the emperors were under the spell of Italian music, and most of the members of the chapel came from Italy. One of the most famous of them all was Antonio Caldara who entered the service of emperor Charles VI as vice-Kapellmeister in 1716. For years he had attempted to become a member of the chapel.

Caldara was born in Venice and was educated as a cellist; he also learned to play the violin and the harpsichord. Here his first vocal compositions - operas and oratorios - were performed. He then went to Mantua, where he was appointed maestro di cappella da chiesa e del teatro. The Duke of Mantua was an ardent lover of opera and was willing to spend a lot of money on opera productions. When he was financially ruined after the War of the Spanish Succession Caldara moved to Rome where he acted as maestro di cappella of Prince Ruspoli from 1709 to 1716.

However, Caldara persistently tried to find a way to be appointed in some position at the court in Vienna. The first contacts with the later Emperor Charles VI date from the time he spent in Barcelona, where Charles - then still Archduke Charles III - married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Later Caldara went to Milan in an attempt to meet Charles again, who was on his way to Frankfurt to be crowned emperor as successor of his brother Joseph I. Caldara also dedicated compositions to Charles - another way to attract his attention. In the end Caldara's persistency paid off. In 1716 he left Rome for Vienna, where he should take up the position of vice Kapellmeister under Johann Joseph Fux and first court composer. In this capacity he was responsible for the composition of operas and other vocal works, not only for regular performances at the Hoftheater, but also at special occasions like birthdays and namedays of the Emperor and Empress. Charles VI was an ardent lover of music, as his predecessors had been, and that had resulted in a musical infrastructure which was second to none in Europe.

La concordia de' pianeti is a serenata and a specimen of Caldara's works for special occasions. In this case that occcasion was the name day of the empress, Elisabeth. In September 1723 Charles had been crowned King of Bohemia in Prague. On their journey home the emperial couple made a stop-over at Znojmo Castle in southern Moravia to celebrate the empress's name day. For this occasion Caldara composed this work, which is called a componimento teatrale, a 'theatrical composition'. In its structure it is close to opera: it opens with an overture which is then followed by a sequence of recitatives, arias and choruses. However, its content is different in that it hasn't a plot of a dramatic nature. Performances of serenatas were mostly also not staged. In this case we witness a debate among the gods about the qualities of a certain mortal, whose name is not mentioned until about halfway the serenata. In the overture Caldara included parts for two trumpets which return later in an aria of Mars, the god of war, and also in some choruses, then joined by timpani.

The overture is followed by a chorus which is interrupted by duets and trios of the various characters. It is a celebration of the day: "On this day, shine and gleam more serenely, o spheres, more brightly, o stars". Then Mercury urges the stars to shine twice as brightly: "Let the joy which an exalted, glorious name brings to the earth, the air and the skies extend to you as well. Let that name be acclaimed in heaven too." The gods then ask him who is the person behind that name: is she a goddess? Mercury answers that she is mortal, but "all that is earthly about her is the fair frame that encloses, but does not conceal her". Her appearance and her soul are "divine". Venus and Diana don't like the competition from a mortal and question Mercury's description of her virtues. He is supported by Jupiter and Saturn, but is opposed by Apollo and Mars. In the end they succumb to Jupiter who once again speaks in her favour. The recitative 'Giove è mio nume' ends with Mercury revealing the name of the mortal: "the sovereign, the royal, the august Elisa". Next follows a chorus: "Celebrate this day, stars and spheres, gods and goddesses, and with full festive ceremony dedicate it to Elisa".

Although this serenata is not divided into two parts this chorus marks a caesura in the piece. In the remainder of the work (here on CD 2) the various characters describe at length the many virtues of the empress. In the aria 'Madre d'Amor tu sei' Mercury reveals that she is expecting a child: "But she will be the mother of a new and genuine love, which will bring peace and repose to all the world". The dialogue between the gods ends with another chorus: "You, noble Elisa, are loved in equal measureb mortals and by the gods". Then follows a licenza, a dedication comprising of a recitative and aria by Venus, followed by a repeat of the chorus.

It seemed useful to give an impression of the content as this is fairly typical of the genre. However, even though this kind of eulogies were certainly meant seriously, composers used such texts to write brilliant music, and that certainly is the case here. Not only are the arias of great beauty, they are also technically demanding and it hardly surprises that some of the best singers of the time participated in the performance in 1723, among them the castrato Giovanni Carestini. Also notable is Caldara's instrumental writing which is rich and varied. It is easy to imagine that Caldara was one of the most celebrated composers of his time and that Charles VI was very fond of his music. It is a shame that to date so relatively little of his output has been explored. A recording like this should help to restore Caldara to the status he deserves: that of one of the great composers of the baroque era.

Andrea Marcon has delivered a generally impressive performance. The orchestral score receives an outstanding performance from La Cetra Barockorchester. The rhythmic pulse which is an important part of the attraction of Caldara's music, comes off very well. The choruses are sung by the Vokalensemble Basel, comprising 16 voices. This seems questionable from a historical point of view. In pieces like this the choruses were usually sung by the soloists; the booklet doesn't inform us whether that was different at this special occasion in 1723. However, the choruses are sung very well, and if the soloists had taken care of them it is very likely that Franco Fagioli would have spoilt the party with his wide and incessant vibrato. He is the 'bad boy' of this recording: I can't understand that he is invited to participate in so many recordings. His singing is just unbearable. Fortunately his role in this piece is rather small: just two arias and some recitatives. The other soloists make a much better impression; although most of them use a little too much vibrato it is hardly obtrusive. Delphine Galou (Venus) is one of the best, and Ruxandra Donose - the only one I hadn't heard before - does well in the role of Jupiter. Daniel Behle gives a good account of the important role of Mercury who has many recitatives to sing which are well conveyed in his performance. The singers have no problems with the coloratura and generally behave well in respect to ornamentation.

This is the recording of a live performance. It opens with applause - that could easily have been erased. It seems a little odd that there is also applause after the chorus 'Tu sei cara', considering that this is not the end of the piece. It is followed by the licenza. But maybe this was deliberate: the licenza opens with a recitative which begins with the words: "Hear, o Elisa, the varied and humble accolades given to your name on this festive day". The Italian text has here "applausi". That could explain it.

All in all this recording is a passionate plea for the music of Antonio Caldara. Could we have a little less Handel and a little more Caldara, please?

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Daniel Behle
Ruxandra Donose
Franco Fagioli
Delphine Galou
Barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel

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