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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): "Profano e Sacro - The Music of Alessandro Scarlatti"

Dominique Corbiau, altoa
La Cetra d'Orfeo
Dir: Michel Keustermans

rec: Feb 20 - 23, 2012, Franc-Waret (B), Église Saint-Rémi
Avanticlassic - 541770610442 (© 2012) (67'15")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Gli equivoci nel Sembiante (1679) (sinfonia); Griselda (1721) (Colomba innamorata, aria)a; Il Ciro (1712) (Aure, fonti, aria; Quel che piace, aria)a; Il David (1700) (sinfonia); Il Primo Omicidio (1707) (sinfonia avanti la voce di Dio; L'olocausto del tuo Abelle, ariaa; sinfonia; Or di strage - Come mostro, rec acc & ariaa); L'Amor volubile e tiranno (1709) (Quanto grata e questo core, ariaa; sinfonia; Come di fronda in fronda, ariaa); La Giuditta (1697) (Dormi o fulmine di guerra, aria)a; Le Vergine Addolorata (1717) (introduzione; Col suo flebil mormorio, ariaa); Venere, Amore e Ragione (1706) (sinfonia; Quella ninfa, ariaa; O pastorelle, ariaa; Un vero amore, ariaa)

Laura Pok, Rachel Heymans, Michel Keustermans, recorder; Arianne De Bièvre, transverse flute, percussion; Mathieu Loux, Kasia Sokolowska, oboe; Jean-François Carlier, bassoon; Dirk Vandaele, Marianne Herssens, Marie Haag, Mika Akiha, Isabelle Verachtert, violin; Ingrid Bourgeois, violin, organ; Emmanuelle Laine, Laurent Hulsbosch, viola; Ronan Kernoa, Aneliue Carbonnel, cello; Pierre Boigelot, Eric Mathot, double bass; Hannelore Devaere, harp; Fabrice Holvoet, theorbo, guitar; Katsufumi Suetsugu, harpsichord, organ

When I prepared for listening to and reviewing this disc I found myself in two minds. On the one hand I don't like it when the name of the artist rather than that of the composer dominates the title page. The latter is definitely more important than the former. On the other hand I have much sympathy for the way the programme has been put together. In the interview in the booklet Dominique Corbiau is asked why he didn't select the famous arias from the baroque period for his first recital disc. He replies that these have been recorded so often and "often so beautifully!" He then says that there is much more which deserves to be discovered. He has become especially interested in the oeuvre of Alessandro Scarlatti. He characterises it as "infinitely rich, full of originality and especially with beautiful melodies at the same time simple and refined, highlighting the voice without straining it".

As I am a great admirer of Scarlatti's music I can only share Corbiau's feelings. The more I hear compositions from his pen the more I am inclined to think that he was indeed one of the towering figures of the Italian baroque. Historically he is of great importance as well. He cemented the form of the chamber cantata which was then followed by many composers of the next generations, including the likes of Vivaldi and Handel. It was Scarlatti who laid the foundation of the Italian opera overture as we know it from numerous operas of the 18th century. During his career he also made a sharper distinction between recitative and aria. He made more use of the accompanied recitative which was effective in marking especially dramatic moments in an opera or oratorio. Scarlatti's contributions to the genre of the oratorio bear witness to its increasingly dramatic character and its development in the direction of opera. These two genres are represented in this programme, and so is a third: the serenata. As such works were mostly written for specific occasions of a festive nature they are generally more light-hearted and sometimes included 'popular' elements as the extracts from Venere, Amore e Ragione prove.

In two of the arias the performers make use of percussion. As I don't have a complete recording of this work and didn't have access to the score I don't know whether this is prescribed or at least suggested by the composer. The same goes for the opening of the programme: it is used in the sinfonias from Gli equivoci nel Sembiante and L'amor volubile e tiranno. The addition of percussion in the aria 'Aure, fonti' from Il Ciro is probably most questionable as the content doesn't suggest its participation. It is a rather lyrical piece: "Breezes, fountains, flowers and herbs, shadows, bushes, enchanting birds, you caress my mind".

This is an example of the kind of pieces Corbiau has selected which emphasize the more intimate and introverted side of Scarlatti's compositions. They seem to suit his voice particularly well. One of the highlights is the aria 'Dormi o fulmine di guerra', a lullaby for Holofernes, sung by the nurse in La Giuditta, about the well-known story of Judith who aims at liberating Betulia. This aria is from the so-called Cambridge Giuditta, for three solo voices. Another fine piece is the aria 'Col suo flebil mormorio' from the oratorio Le Vergine Addolorata. The text is eloquently expressed in the music: "With a fragile whisper the river said 'Come, mingle your tears'". The strings depict the murmuring of the waves. In the B section the text mentions the nightingale and here an obbligato part is given to the recorder. According to Corbiau it plays offstage; in this performance it is a shade too loud in comparison to the voice.

The use of instruments is one of the interesting aspects of this disc. In various arias instruments such as the transverse flute, the oboe and the bassoon have obbligato parts. Corbiau's voice perfectly matches the flute in the aria 'Come di fronda in fronda' from L'Amor volubile e tiranno. In the lullaby from La Giuditta which I already mentioned we hear a harp playing a solo part. It is beautifully played, but I wondered where that part comes from. In the complete recording under the direction of Gilbert Bezzina (Dynamic, 2009) only strings are involved.

Before you come to the conclusion that this is a disc full of softness and sweetness, there are some excerpts from Il Primo Omicidio - about Cain murdering his brother Abel - where Corbiau shows that he has considerable dramatic talents as well. In the last section, the excerpts from Venere, Amore e Ragione he shows his extrovert side.

I am generally quite pleased by Corbiau's performances. I had never heard him before, but I hope to hear more from him in the future. He has a pleasant voice with a warm timbre. His diction is very good and as a result the texts are always clearly audible. That is not obvious in recordings like this. I have some doubts about several cadences which seem more extended than was common in Scarlatti's time. I wonder whether these are a bit anachronistic. As I have already noted I have also my doubts about the use of percussion and, generally, about the liberties the performers have taken.

That said this disc is interesting in regard to repertoire as - according to the booklet - it includes no fewer than nine first recordings. Musically there is much to enjoy here and this recording bears witness to the quality and versatility of the composer as well as the quality of Corbiau and the orchestra.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Dominique Corbiau
La Cetra d'Orfeo

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