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Antonio VIVALDI & Johann Adolf HASSE: Chamber cantatas

[I] Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Vivaldi alla moda - Chamber cantatas"
Camilla de Falleiro, sopranoa
Accademia Apollinea
Dir: Thomas Leininger
rec: June 2015, Magden, Christkatholische Kirche
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 226 ( 2017) (62'34")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Aure, voi pi non siete (RV 652)a; Fonti del pianto (RV 656)a; Il povero mio cor (RV 658)a; Sonata for cello and bc in B flat (RV 46)b; Sorge vermiglia in ciel (RV 667)a

Sophie Lamberbourg, cello (solob); Petra Schneider, archlute; Thomas Leininger, harpsichord

[II] Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "Arcadian Cantatas"
Filippo Mineccia, altoa
Il gioco de' Matti
rec: April 20 - 23, 2016, Ghent, KASK-Koninklijk Conservatorium, Miryzaal
Pan Classics - PC 10361 ( 2017) (61'34")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Il nomeab; La fiamma che nel senoab; Oh Dio partir convienea; Passa di pena in penaab; Sonata in D, op. 1,1 (attr)b; Sonata in d minor, op. 7,5c

Giulia Barbini, transverse fluteb; Federico Toffano, cello; Guilio Quirici, theorbo; Francesco Corti, harpsichord (soloc)

The genre of the chamber cantata flourished in Italy from the second quarter of the 17th to the end of the 18th century. In that space of time thousands of such pieces must have been written. The most common form - a sequence of recitatives and arias - was developed by Alessandro Scarlatti, who composed at least around 600 chamber cantatas. Although there was a strong similarity between the chamber cantata and opera in form and subject matter, there were also significant differences. Operas were staged and performed in the theatre, and here a singer not only had to show his vocal skills, but also needed acting capabilities. The audience was not always knowledgeable and often was involved in conversations during a performance. Chamber cantatas were written for performances in the intimacy of an aristocratic palace and in particular during meetings of the Arcadian Academies. "This genre was mostly intended for a sophisticated audience, able to understand subtle references in the lyrics and occasionally daring music experimentations", Andrea Friggi states in his liner-notes to the Hasse disc.

The cantatas carry the listener to a world of shepherds and nymphs, reflecting the 'Arcadian visions' of the European aristocracy. Friggi characterises it as "an idealized representation of what European aristocratic societies want to be themselves." So we often meet the same mythological characters, such as Thyrsis and Chloris. The cantatas are all about love, in its various manifestations.

Antonio Vivaldi was quite productive in the composition of chamber cantatas. The catalogue of his oeuvre includes more than 40 cantatas, mostly for solo voice and bc, sometimes with additional instruments. Some of these cantatas have become quite popular, such as Cessate, omai cessate which exists in two different versions, and Amor, hai vinto. The disc with the title 'Vivaldi alla moda' includes four lesser-known cantatas, all for soprano and bc. It is neither known for whom they were written and when, nor who the authors of the texts are. Some of Vivaldi's cantatas are quite dramatic and also rather virtuosic. A striking example is Sorge vermiglia in ciel, which opens the programme. The shepherd's lament about the "ungrateful shepherdess", who doesn't allow him to approach her, is expressed through wide leaps in the vocal part in all four sections, but in particular in the opening recitative and aria. The highest and the lowest notes both explore the very end of the soprano's tessitura. The last aria is not unlike an operatic rage aria. The next cantata, Fonti del pianto, is very different, more intimate, as comes especially to the fore in the opening aria, which is about "fountains of grief". The last cantata, Il povero mio cor, opens with an aria in the same vein: "My poor heart, far from the beloved, it weeps and laments". In Aure, voi pi non siete the protagonist addresses the "beloved, clear brook" and the rippling of the water is strikingly depicted in the basso continuo. This is underlined here in that the opening phrase of the bass line is performed by the cello alone.

Because of their subject matter chamber cantatas are not my favourite genre. Even so, one has to admire the way a composer like Vivaldi was able to set similar texts in different ways. There is certainly no dull moment here, even though the jumps up and down the scale in Sorge vermiglia in ciel are more admirable from a technical point of view than, musically speaking, beautiful. Admirable is certainly the way Camilla de Falleiro deals with the technical requirements of this cantata. It is clear that it requires a great deal of effort to sing the top notes and the very low ones, but I have to say that she does very well here. She was new to me, and I am glad that I had the chance to hear her in these cantatas. I have greatly enjoyed her performances. She has a beautiful voice with a wide range and great agility. She is also an excellent interpreter: she is just as convincing in the more dramatic arias and recitatives as in the more intimate pieces and in some light-hearted moments. She takes exactly the right amount of rhythmic freedom in the recitatives. The diction and articulation are excellent and so is her dynamic shading. And, much to my relief, she avoids the incessant vibrato which spoils so many recordings of this kind of repertoire. In fact, this is one of the best discs with chamber cantatas I have heard in recent years.

The instrumentalists also contribute to the success of this disc. They have taken some liberties which seem to be well within the bounds of what is historically tenable. One feature needs to be mentioned: in two of the cantatas the opening recitative is introduced by a short harpsichord improvisation. This was a common practice at the time, also in sonatas, but seldom applied today. Thomas Leininger also plays a short transitional improvisation between the second and third movements from the Sonata in B flat. This piece is given a nice performance by Sophie Lamberbourg.

Despite the differences between opera and chamber cantata, the similarity in form and content explains why so many composers of operas also composed chamber cantatas. That goes for Vivaldi as well as for Johann Adolf Hasse. The work-list in New Grove includes a considerable number of cantatas, either with basso continuo alone or with additional instruments. Very little of that part of his oeuvre is available on disc. Recenly I reviewed the first volume in a series of recordings of cantatas on the label Toccata and the present disc of Filippo Mineccia and Il gioco de' Matti is another welcome contribution to the exploration of Hasse's output in this genre. Whereas some of the cantatas on the Toccata disc are pretty dramatic, those recorded by Mineccia are more intimate. The fact that two of them include an obbligato part for the transverse flute attests to that.

All four of them are settings of texts from the pen of Pietro Metastasio. He was by far the most famous opera librettist of his time, and many of his librettos were set by several composers, among them the best in the business. Hasse was a personal friend of his and set nearly all of his librettos.

The programme opens with Il nome, which is about a lover who carves the name of his beloved on a tree, hoping that it will last forever, growing together with the tree, as a token of his love. This explains why it includes an obbligato part for the recorder. Because this instrument seems to have been chosen on purpose by Hasse I regret that it has been replaced here by a transverse flute. Some of the arias are highly expressive, such as the opening aria from Passa da pena in pena. Because of its harmonic progressions Andrea Frigge assumes Oh Dio, partir conviene was intended for a professional singer.

In recent years I have reviewed several recordings by Filippo Mineccia. I was impressed by the sound of his voice and his expressive interpretations. He is not the most dramatic singer as his voice seems to lack sharp edges. That is no problem here, because of the intimate nature of thes cantatas. There is no lack of expression in this recording, and the recitatives are also treated well. In my previous reviews I also noted that he avoided an incessant vibrato, but this disc suggests that he also has been stricken with this disease, as so many of his colleagues. His vibrato is not very wide and not of the sort that goes on your nerves, like that of Franco Fagioli, but I still find it very disappointing. Let's hope it is curable and that he returns to his old ways.

The programme includes two instrumental pieces. The Sonata in d minor is from a selection of keyboard sonatas, which Walsh in London published in 1758. It is a short piece in three movements. The Sonata in D, op. 1,1 is from a set of twelve for transverse flute and bc, which was printed by Le Cne in Paris. However, they are considered not authentic. From that perspective one may wonder, why it was included here rather than a piece whose authenticity is established. Both pieces are well played and bring some variety into the programme.

Despite my reservations I recommend this disc because of the quality of these cantatas and the expression in Mineccia's performances.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Camilla de Falleiro
Filippo Mineccia

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