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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639 - 1682): "Italian Arias"

Susanne Rydén, sopranoa; Martin Oro, altob; Lisandro Abadie, baritonec
Harmonices Mundi
Dir: Claudio Astronio

rec: 2011, Bolzano
Brilliant Classics - 94258 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (2.09'55")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Adorata libertà, dal mio core non partite a; Al rigor di due tirannia; Avete torto, occhi miei caria; Avrò pur d'aspettar più?a; Begl'occhi, il vostro piangerea; Bel tempo, addio, son fatto amantea; Cara e dolce libertàa; Che mi giovan le vittoriec; Chi avesse visto un corea; Chi mi disse che Amor dà tormentoa; Chi non porta amor nel pettoa; Chi vuol libero il suo pièa; Da Filinda aver chi puòa; Deh, frenate i furoric; Deh, vola, o desioa; Delizie, contentic; Dell'ardore ch'il core distempraa; Destatevi, o sensi, risvegliati, onorea; Dormite, occhi, dormitec; È pazzia l'innamorarsia; 'Fedeltà!' sinché spirto in petto avròa; Il mio cor ch'è infelicissimoa; Il mio core per voi, luci bellea; Le luci vezzose volgetemi, o Cloria; Mio cor, che si fa?a; Non fia mai, ah no, ch'io speria; Ogni sguardo che tu scocchia; Parti, fuggi dal mio senoa; Pensier ostinatoa; Pria di scior quel dolce nodob; Quanto è bella la mia stellaa; S'Amor m'annoda il piedea; Se di gioie m'alletta il serenoa; Speranze smarriteb; Ti lascerò e a poco a pocoa; Toccata in a minord; Torna, Amor, dammi il mio benea

Hedwig Raffeiner, Rossella Croceviolin; Alessandro Palmeri, cello; Pietro Posser, lute, theorbo, guitar; Claudio Astronio, harpsichord [solo d], organ

Alessandro Stradella was a highly admired performer and composer in his time. After his death he was called "un Orfeo assassinato" - an Orfeo murdered, probably referring to his qualities as a tenor. His adultery and various affairs with women as well as his secondary job of matchmaking caused him a lot of trouble. It apparently resulted in his being stabbed to death in Genoa in 1682 at the age of just 42. In that relatively short span he wrote a large and versatile oeuvre. It comprises a number of operas and oratorios, and in particular a large amount of cantatas. Today his most famous work is his oratorio San Giovanni Battista.

The largest part of his 174 extant cantatas are for soprano and basso continuo; other voice types are only sporadically used. In her liner-notes Carolyn Gianturco points out how much attention Stradella paid to the text. "While other composers, both before and after him, drew attention to single words through dissonance or melodic ornamentation, Stradella's settings, despite using this technique, are more closely and continuously tied to the text. (...) Stradella interprets each text as a literary and musical dramatist, so that the words, phrases and overall meaning of his dramatic vocal music can be interpreted fully and understood unambiguously."

The arias on these discs are collected from various manuscripts from locations spread across Europe and even the United States. It says something about the popularity of Stradella's music. In his stock-taking of the arias John S. Powell doesn't make clear why these were written. Were they conceived as independent pieces or were they originally part of cantatas? His analysis of these arias leads to the conclusion that, although they all are about love, there is quite a lot of variety in the way the subject is treated.

Unfortunately that is not really reflected in the way they are performed. Although the liner-notes don't say so I assume this disc contains all Stradella's extant solo arias. That in itself makes this an important production, also considering the quality of the music. That makes it all the more disappointing that this project in the end has to be considered a failure.

To begin with, as the far majority of the arias have the same scoring - soprano and basso continuo - it is not very smart to programme them as they are on these discs. A mixture with instrumental pieces or with some of Stradella's duets or trios would have created some variety. It would also have helped if more than one soprano would have been involved. Now we hear the same voice for more than two hours almost without interruption. And that is not a great pleasure. I have heard Susanne Rydén in other recordings, and she has the perfect voice for religious music of the 17th century, and especially German repertoire. But here she is totally miscast.

Technically she is overstretched. She gives the impression of having quite some trouble in hitting the top notes, and these often sound uncomfortable. She then pushes out the sound at the expense of the delivery. Because of that we hear fortes where they are not required. The articulation leaves something to be desired and in more than one instance the intonation is suspect.

The interpretation is even more problematic. Explaining Stradella's differentiated treatment of the subject of love is one thing, making it audible quite another. It is particularly here that this interesting project goes astray. The light-hearted and ironic items come off rather well, but in the more dramatic stuff Ms Rydén fails to communicate the protagonist's sadness, despair or anger. There is no depth or real emotion. And when she tries to sing dramatically, for instance in Il mio cor, ch'è infelicissimo, it is unnatural and lacks conviction. Her voice is too light and not very colourful. Why Claudio Astronio has chosen Ms Rydén for this job is a mystery to me. I can only dream about what a naturally dramatic soprano like Roberta Invernizzi - to mention just one - would have made of this repertoire. Martin Oro makes a better impression, and in particular the baritone Lisandro Abadie delivers good performances. The highlight is Dormite, occhi, dormite, a very expressive dialogue of voice and violin. But their contributions are too small to redeem this set.

I have heard music by Stradella before and have greatly enjoyed it. Here I was glad when the last note died away. It was quite an effort to keep my concentration while listening to these discs, not because of the quality of the music but because of the one-dimensional performances. It is very sad that an interesting project like this has gone astray because the main interpreter isn't up to the job.

The lyrics in the booklet contain various errors. In the track-list and the printing of the lyrics track 8 of the first disc and track 6 of the second have been swapped.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Claudio Astronio

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