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Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710): "Passion Cantatas"

Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, soprano; Furio Zanasi, baritone
Capella Tiberina
Dir: Giovanni Caruso

rec: Oct 2 - 4, 2010, Scornio (Pistoia), Villa Puccini
Brilliant Classics - 94225 ( 2012) (52'46")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Hor ch'il Ciel fra densi horrori; Padre, Signore e Dio

Paolo Perrone, Marialuisa Barbon, Laura Corolla, Gian Claudio Del Moro, Giancarlo Ceccacci, Luisa Di Menna, violin; Diego Roncalli, Rebeca Ferri, cello; Roberto Stilo, double bass; Mirko Arnone, theorbo, guitar; Alexandra Nigito, harpsichord, organ

Bernardo Pasquini is mainly known for his keyboard music. It is that part of his output which has been most recorded. A disc with keyboard works, performed by Roberto Loreggian, has been reviewed on this site. However, his oeuvre comprises vocal works as well, in particular a considerable number of operas and oratorios. This bears witness to his talent in the dramatic department which also comes to the fore in the two cantatas on this disc.

Pasquini was educated as a keyboard player and developed into the most prominent composer of keyboard music between Frescobaldi and Domenico Scarlatti. He settled in Rome around 1650 and remained there for the rest of his life. At that time Frescobaldi had already died, but Pasquini carefully studied and copied his works. After holding various posts as organist of several churches he became keyboard player at the court of Prince Giambattista Borghese. Previously he had also enjoyed close contacts with Queen Christina of Sweden and the cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili. Pasquini participated in many performances of secular music in Rome, regularly working with Arcangelo Corelli. He was a sought-after keyboard teacher; among his students were Zipoli and possibly Domenico Scarlatti, but also foreigners such as Johann Philipp Krieger and Georg Muffat.

So far little attention has been given to Pasquini's vocal output; most of it has never been published. He is known to have written 18 operas, 12 of which have survived; seven of his 13 oratorios have come down to us. The two cantatas on this disc are not mentioned in the work-list in New Grove. Strictly speaking they belong to the genre of the cantata, but they could also be considered oratorios.

In Hor ch'il Ciel fra densi horrori the soprano and the bass represent five different characters: Earth, Sea, Air, Moon and Sun. The text focuses on the three hours of darkness during Jesus' crucifixion. The five characters "are drawn into the pain and suffering of Christ, while man remains dry-eyed (...), continuing to live in joy and delight", Alexandra Nigito writes in the liner-notes. Padre, Signore e Dio is a dialogue which describes how Christ triumphs over death through his crucifixion and resurrection. If you don't know Italian you have to content yourself with this short description, since the booklet includes the lyrics, but without a translation.

The two cantatas begin with a short sinfonia. Then follows a series of recitatives and arias. The latter are mostly rather short and some of them have a rudimentary da capo structure. Because of the lack of translations it is hard to tell to what extent the two soloists have captured the text and its affetti. My impression is that they both deal pretty well with the dramatic character of the cantatas. The recitatives are performed with the necessary rhythmic freedom, and the contrasts in some arias come off rather well. The singing of Sharon Rostorf-Zamir and Furio Zanasi is quite different, though. The latter makes by far the best impression, with a strongly speech-like performance and an impressive vocal technique. The soprano's singing is marred by an incessant vibrato, which is the worst in some arias whose pitch causes her trouble. The top notes in 'Miei pallori' (Hor ch'il Ciel fra densi horrori), for instance, sound stressed and as a result this aria is one of the least-satisfying parts of this disc.

The instrumental scoring is for two violins and bc. "We doubled the strings in the sinfonias and some of the ritornellos to capture the lush and sumptuous sound of the Roman orchestras, which could include as many as 150 instruments during performances of large-scale oratorios", the liner-notes say. The latter seems irrelevant as these cantatas don't fall into the category of "large-scale oratorios". Considering the lack of a viola part is seems rather unlikely that the string parts were performed with more than one instrument per part. The violins are not doubled here, by the way: both first and second violin parts are performed by three players each.

The instrumentalists play well, though, and they are not the reason that this disc isn't an unqualified success. The main reason is the singing of Sharon Rostorf-Zamir which is not really convincing from a stylistic point of view. On the other hand, there is no lack of drama in these performances, and that makes this disc an attractive proposition. The omission of a translation of the lyrics is a serious shortcoming, though.

N.B. A recording of Pasquini's oratorio Caino e Abele was reviewed here.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Capella Tiberina


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