musica Dei donum

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The story of Naples

[I] "Storie di Napoli"
Maria Ladurner, soprano
la festa musicale
Dir: Barbara Heindlmeier
rec: Jan 16 - 18, 2021, Bremen, Sendesaal Radio Bremen
Audite - 97.800 (© 2022) (58'27")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Nicola FIORENZA (1700-1764): Concerto in f minor (largo/presto - largo - largo/presto; allegro ma non presto; allegro); Concerto in a minor; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Concerto VIII in c minor; Giuseppe PORSILE (1680-1750): Cantata sopra L'Arcecalascione (Sfogandose nel juorno - Schiaresce l'arba/Romanella, rec & aria); Il ritorno d'Ulisse alla patria (Nel mio petto due tiranni); Domenico Natale SARRO (SARRI) (1679-1744): Concerto XI in a minor; La Partenope (Begl'occhi del mio ben); Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Il giardino di rose (Mentr'io godo in dolce oblio; Ecco negli orti tuoi - Che dolce simpatia, rec & aria); trad, arr la festa musicale: Tarantella napoletana (alla festa musicale)

Barbara Heindlmeier, recorder; Christian Heim, recorder, violone; Anne Marie Harer, Iris Maron, Karoline Stemberg, violin; Maria Pache, viola; Christoph Harer, cello; Simon Linné, archlute, guitar; Avinoam Shalev, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Castrapolis - Neapolitan Arias and Cantatas"
Nicolò Balducci, soprano
Dolci Affetti
Dir: Dan Laurin
rec: July 12 - 15, 2021, Sundbyberg, Duvbo kyrka
BIS - 2585 (© 2022) (81'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Domenico AULETTA (1723-1753): Concerto in C; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Ciro riconosciuto (Non piangete, amati rai); Giuseppe PORSILE (1680-1750): Il ritorno d'Ulisse alla patria (Sventurato chi piagato; Tu sei crudel così; Apri Cirene i lumi; Fiero sdegno dell'alma guerriero; Quel volto vezzoso; Mi preparo a trionfar); Domenico Natale SARRO (SARRI): Dimmi ben neo che fai; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Quella pace gradita; trad: Tarantella del Gargano

Dan Laurin, recorder; Kate Hearne, recorder, cello; Kerstin Frödin, Ia Neumüller, oboe; Mats Klingfors, bassoon; Maria Lindal, violin; Karolina Weber Eddahl, violin, viola; Joel Sundin, viola; Louise Agnani, cello; Tomas Gertonsson, double bass; Dohyo Sol, archlute, guitar; Anna Paradiso, harpsichord


Naples was a centre of music for many centuries. This has resulted in a large repertoire, of which we know only the proverbial top of the iceberg. Some performers have brought quite a number of interesting pieces to our attention, for instance Antonio Florio. He mainly focused on vocal music, both sacred and secular. Part of the latter category were pieces in the Neapolitan dialect. One such piece - or rather a part of it - is also included in the disc with the title Storie di Napoli - "stories of Naples". This refers to the way the programme has been put together, as Barbara Heindlmeier explains in her liner-notes: "Inextricably linked with Naples is the mythological figure of Parthenope, the singing, beguiling siren who, according to legend, founded Naples. It is therefore she who guides us through this album, introducing us to the stories - storie - of her city. These stories are about the founding of Naples, its underworld and the colourful celebrations within its lively street life".

This explains why sometimes a vocal work is inserted into a concerto. Heindlmeier tries to interpret the various movements as parts of the stories. Whether the listener is going to find this useful in order to appreciate this disc is hard to say. In the long run he may ignore the concept behind the programme and enjoy it for what it is: a sequence of vocal and instrumental pieces by Neapolitan composers. One issue is that not a single vocal work is performed complete: we only get recitatives and arias from cantatas or operas.

The choice of instrumental works is not exactly original, which is not surprising. For reasons not known, Naples was a kind of centre of recorder playing, and this explains the surprising number of concertos and sonatas for or with recorder. The concertos by Francesco Mancini and Domenico Sarri are taken from a collection known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725, which includes 24 concertos (or sonatas) for recorder, violins and basso continuo. Given that the repertoire for the recorder is not that large - certainly not for larger scorings than with basso continuo alone - there is no lack of recordings. Lesser-known are the pieces by Nicola Fiorenzi, although his oeuvre has been given some attention. Notable is his habit to score concertos for three violins and one viola, with the third violin playing in unison with the viola. It seems that the combination of recorder and violin in solo roles was not very common in Italy, and that makes the Concerto in f minor by Fiorenza quite interesting. It is regrettable that the third movement has been replaced by an aria from Alessandro Scarlatti's oratorio Il giardino di rose (whose text unfortunately is omitted in the booklet).

Another aria from this work includes an obbligato part for the flautino. The other parts in 'Che dolce simpatia' are for soprano and basso continuo. The latter is the only accompaniment in the aria 'Schiaresce l'arba' from the Cantata sopra L'Arcecalascione by Giuseppe Porsile, which is written in the Neapolitan dialect. The title refers to the colascione, here represented by the archlute. The B-part of the aria is performed instrumentally - it is called Romanella, but the liner-notes fail to tell us what exactly that may be. A search on the internet did not bring any light into this matter. Porsile is also represented with an aria from his opera Il ritorno d'Ulisse alla patria.

The programme ends with a tarantella, a harmonic scheme typical for Naples. It has been worked out here by the ensemble: hence the title, Tarantella napoletana alla festa musicale.

I am not entirely convinced by or happy with the concept of this disc. I would have liked to hear complete cantatas; there is still much to discover, and Maria Ladurner has a lovely voice. More of her would have made this disc more interesting. That said, the programme is certainly entertaining, due to the quality of the music, and - apart from Ladurner's singing - the playing of the ensemble. Barbara Heindlmeier is a fine recorder player and makes the most of the concertos included here.

The second disc sheds light on another aspect of Naples. It was the breeding ground of many castratos, some of whom became very famous, such as Farinelli and Caffarelli. It made Dominique Fernandez call Naples Castrapolis in his novel Porporino ou les mystères de Naples; hence the title of this disc.

It is not always known whether a role for a high voice - especially in opera - was meant to be sung by a female or a male singer. The programme includes six arias from Il ritorno di Ulisse alla patria, the first opera from the pen of Giuseppe Porsile, and dating from 1707. They are allocated to three different characters. Three are sung by Telemaco; according to Dinko Fabris in his liner-notes, his "adolescent voice was interpreted at the first performance by a female singer en travestie". This suggests that in later performances the role was sung by a castrato. One aria is by Elvira, which role was sung by the castrato Domenico Gizzi, making his professional debut. Who sang the role of the third character, Creonte, is not mentioned. The first disc also included an aria from this opera, but fortunately a different one. This work seems well worth being recorded complete.

Chamber cantatas represented the most popular form of vocal entertainment in Italy from the late 17th to about the middle of the 18th century. Numerous pieces of this kind were written; Alessandro Scarlatti, who laid down the standard form of this genre, may have written more than 800. One of the better known is Quella pace gradita, scored for solo voice, recorder, violin, cello and basso continuo. This scoring was the exception, as most cantatas were for solo voice, sometimes with one or two additional instruments.

The fact that a recorder was involved, is less exceptional, as I already pointed out in my review of the first disc. It also has obbligato parts in Johann Adolf Hasse's opera Ciro riconosciuto; in the aria 'Non piangete, amati rai', the voice is accompanied by two recorders and two oboes, alongside strings and basso continuo. The same goes for Porsile's opera; in the aria 'Mi preparo a trionfar', the voice is accompanied by two recorders. Porsile also wrote several cantatas with a part for recorder.

Another composer of music for the recorder was Domenico Sarri (or Sarro); his concerto for recorder and strings included in the first disc is his best-known work. According to New Grove he also wrote 76 secular cantatas, which are seldom performed. Dimmi bel neo che fai is a nice specimen of his art in this department.

Domenico Auletto may be a new name to almost any lover of baroque music; I had never heard of him. He is represented here with one of his three harpsichord concertos, whose solo part is technically demanding, and which is written in the galant idiom. It is a nice and valuable addition to the repertoire.

Like the previous one, this disc ends with a tarantella, not improvised this time, but a traditional from the region where Nicolò Balducci is from. He sings it in dialect, and is accompanied by a guitar.

This is my first acquaintance with Balducci, who is labelled a 'countertenor', but is in fact a male soprano. In recent years several such singers have made the headlines and have been hailed as great performers. I have not been impressed by those I have heard, such as Samuel Mariño and Bruno de Sá, especially for stylistic reasons. Balducci is a different animal, if I may use this word. I like his voice, which has a nice timbre and has the agility that is needed for the coloratura in the cantatas and opera arias. I also like his interpretations. There are no extravagances, for instance with regard to ornamentation. He does very well in the recitatives, which he takes with the right amount of rhythmic freedom. Now and then he uses a bit too much vibrato, but it is by far not as bad as with the two I just mentioned. I am curious how he is going to develop in the years to come. This is his recording debut; a second disc has been released, which I hope to review later. He has the best possible support here, with the excellent Dan Laurin on recorder. Anna Paradiso is a brilliant keyboard player, and delivers a fine performance of the solo part in Auletto.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Nicolo Balducci
Maria Ladurner
la festa musicale

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