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Alessandro SCARLATTI & Francesco DURANTE: "Umana e Inumana"

Isabelle Poulenard, sopranoa; Guillemette Laurens, mezzo-sopranob
Fuoco e Cenere
Dir: Jay Bernfeld

rec: Sept 8 - 11, 2009, Paris
Arion - ARN68812 (© 2010) (70'45")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Amor, Mitilde č mortaab; Andate, o miei sospiriab; Dormono l'aure estiveab; Mitilde, alma miaab; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Amor, Miltilde č mortab; Andate, o miei sospiri (Cantata Inumana)a; Andate, o miei sospiri (Cantata Umana)b; Andate, o miei sospiri (Cantata Umana) (Se non v'accoglie in seno, aria)c; Dormono l'aure estive (Dormono l'aure estive, arioso)a; Mitilde, alma mia (Abbandonato e solo; Vagabondo flumicello, arias)a; Suite for recorder and bc in G (exc)c

Source: Francesco Durante, XII duetti, [n.d.]

Patricia Lavail, recorderc; Jay Bernfeld, viola da gamba; André Henrich, archlute; Laure Vovard, harpsichord

This disc brings together two composers from Naples, albeit from different generations. They are also different in that Scarlatti was an important contributor to the genre of opera, whereas Durante never composed anything for the theatre. They have also something in common: both were considered rather conservative - Scarlatti in particular towards the end of his career - and in the oeuvre of both the traditional counterpoint plays an important role.

The combination of Scarlatti and Durante is not just the result of an arbitrary decision. Durante is represented with five duets which are arrangements of recitatives from cantatas by Scarlatti. They can be considered as a token of his admiration for his fellow townsman, who was the most profilic composer of cantatas of his time. The disc starts with a duet by Durante, Dormono l'aure estive, which is followed by the opening arioso from the cantata by Scarlatti on which it is based. Next is the duet Amor, Mitilde č morto, which is followed by the cantata which begins with the recitative with the same text. This results in an interesting confrontation of two different ways of setting the same text. Durante makes use of the musical material by Scarlatti, but exactly what and how much he uses differs from one duet to the other. Mitilde, alma mia mixes the music of both composers. The two recitatives by Scarlatti are replaced by the duet arrangements by Durante. That is not such a good idea; the whole structure of Scarlatti's cantata is damaged and there is inevitably also a kind of stylistic clash.

This disc has another interesting aspect: the cantata Andate o miei sospiri by Scarlatti is recorded here twice. It is the result of a musical exchange between Scarlatti and his Venetian colleague Francesco Gasparini. The latter sent his setting of this text to Scarlatti, who responded with two settings of his own. The first he characterised as "based on a human idea" (con idea umana), to the second he added "based on an inhuman idea, chromatically in order, yet not within the grasp of every professor". Whether this was a case of rivalry, as the liner-notes of this disc suggest, or a friendly exchange of musical ideas, as New Grove indicates, is hard to say. The latter seems more plausible, since Scarlatti entrusted some of the musical training of his son Domenico to Gasparini.

Whatever, it is an interesting experience to hear these two settings together - apparently for the first time, as I couldn't find any other recordings on the internet. The use of chromaticism isn't unusual in Scarlatti's chamber cantatas but in the Cantata Inumana it is pretty extreme. The last aria from the 'human' version is offered in an alternative version, here played with recorder and bc. The only instrumental item is the Suite in G for recorder and bc, from which only some (unspecified) movements are played.

The cantatas by Scarlatti are highly expressive pieces, and that comes out perfectly in the interpretations by Isabelle Poulenard and Guillemette Laurens. These cantatas are a kind of pocket-sized operas, and therefore the theatrical interpretation of the two singers is fully appropriate. At the same time these pieces were meant to be performed in private homes and palaces, and therefore a certain kind of intimacy is required. That is the case here as well. The venue of the recording is not mentioned, but its acoustic serves the music well. The duets are interesting pieces, which shed light on a lesser-known side of Durante, although three of the duets on this disc have been recorded in 1978 by Concerto Vocale (Harmonia mundi). The two soloists have very different voices, but the blending is very good and they deliver engaging performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Isabelle Poulenard
Fuoco e Cenere


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