musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Alessandro STRADELLA (1639 - 1682): "Duets"

Emma Kirkbya, Susanne Rydénb, soprano; Christine Marsoner, contraltoc; Alessio Tosi, tenord; Sergio Foresti, basse
Harmonices Mundi
Dir: Claudio Astronio

rec: Nov 12 - 17, 2013, Bolzano, Kloster Muri-Gries (Radiokapelle)
Brilliant Classics - 94343 (© 2014) (61'14")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Ahi, che posar non puote a 2ae; Ardo, sospiro e piungo a 2ae; Aure fresche, aure volanti a 2be; Care labbra che d'amore a 2ae; Dietro l'orme del desio a 2bc; Fulmini, quanto sa quel sembiante severo a 2be; La bellissima speranza che nutrisce a 2be; Me ne farete tante che oiù non soffrirò a 2ae; Non si move onda in fiume a 2ae; Occhi belli, e che sarà a 2ab; Pazienza, finirà l'influenza a 2de; Sarà ver ch'io mai disciolga a 2be; Sì, quella tu sei che il mio cor sempre adorò a 2ae; Trionfate, invitti colli a 3abef

Esther Crazzolara, Hedwig Raffeiner, violinf; Pietro Prosser, theorbo, archlute, guitar; Claudio Astronio, harpsichord, organ

Alessandro Stradella was one of the leading figures in musical life in Italy in the second half of the 17th century. He was much admired as a singer; after his death he was called "un Orfeo assassinato" - an Orfeo murdered. The latter refers to the way his life came to an end: he was stabbed to death in Genoa in 1682 at the age of just 42. It was probably the effect of his adultery and various affairs with women as well as his secondary job of matchmaking.

Despite his relatively short life his oeuvre is large and versatile. He composed a considerable number of works for the stage, some oratorios and a relatively small number of sacred works. The latter can be explained from the fact that he never had a position in which the composition of sacred music was required. By far the largest part of his oeuvre comprises secular cantatas, mostly for soprano and basso continuo. Very little of that part of his oeuvre has been explored as yet. It is likely that Stradella composed most of his vocal chamber music during his years in Rome. The interest in this kind of repertoire there is partly due to the Church's stiff resistance to opera, a form of musical entertainment which was enthusiastically embraced in other Italian cities, such as Venice.

Vocal chamber music was to be part of the repertoire performed in the Arcadian academies which came into existence in Rome and then in other cities across Italy from the late 17th century onwards. Duets certainly also belonged to their repertoire. In the early decades of the 18th century composers of fame, such as Handel, composed a fair number of such pieces. He and others were strongly influenced by Agostino Steffani (1654-1728), by far the most famous composer of duets in his time. In comparison the number of duets from Stradella's pen is limited: just 13, which have been recorded complete by Claudio Astronio. Whether Steffani knew Stradella's duets is impossible to say, but he was already active as a composer in Rome in the early 1670s. At that time Stradella was also there, and it therefore is quite likely that he knew some of his compositions.

Anyway, Stradella's and Steffani's duets have certainly much in common. They are no dialogues between two different characters as we find them in duets in large-scale stage works or in secular cantatas for two voices. Almost always it is just one character who speaks. The exception in the present programme is Sì , quella tu sei in which two protagonists are involved. Otherwise Stradella uses the interplay of the two voices and the possibilities of counterpoint in order to express the text, for instance through the use of imitation.

The duets are different in structure. Some comprise only one section, others are divided into various sections of contrasting tempo, rhythm and metre. In some duets the sections have a different scoring. Fulmini, quanto sa quel sembiante severo opens with a section for soprano and bass, which is followed by two solo sections for the two respective voices; each of them is followed by a repeat of the opening section à 2 as a kind of refrain. Dietro l'orme del desio, for soprano and alto, has a comparable structure. Pazienza, finirà l'influenza is different from the other duets in that it opens with a recitative. Angela Romagnoli, in her liner-notes, refers to "the version chosen for this recording" which suggests that another version with a different structure exists. She adds that its authenticity is not established. It would have been nice if the 'original version' had also be included here; there was enough space for that.

This programme of duets is extended by the only trio from Stradella's oeuvre, and - according to the liner-notes - the only piece which requires the participation of violins. However, according to the worklist in New Grove the duet Aure fresche includes a violin part. There is no mention of that here.

Some time ago Claudio Astronio turned his attention to Alessandro Stradella. As he is almost exclusively known for his oratorios (San Giovanni Battista and La Susanna in particular) there is still much to discover, and therefore Astronio's activities in this field are most welcome. This is his second disc with music by Stradella; the first included the arias for solo voice. Unfortunately that was a rather lamentable affair, largely due to the weak performances of Susanna Rydén who didn't show any feeling for the dramatic traits of these arias. She is involved in this recording as well, and makes a somewhat better impression. Even so, she is one of the weaker participants in these performances. It is as if she constantly has to push her voice to produce some sound (listen, for instance, to Sarà ver ch'io mai disciolga). You never get the impression that she feels at home here.

Italian music of a theatrical nature is certainly not the core business of Emma Kirkby, but she is not the young and white voice anymore that she once was. Her many qualities, among them a good sense of text expression, are still very much present, but she has added depth and colour to her voice which is most suitable to the repertoire performed here. Her contributions are very enjoyable, and she is - is always - able to adapt her voice to that of her colleagues, which is essential in duets. In most duets the second part is taken by Sergio Foresti, and he sings very well. Recently I enjoyed Alessio Tosi in a recording of duets by Steffani and he does just as well here. Christine Marsoner has a nice voice, but it is a bit too weak, and as a result the balance in Dietro l'orme del desio is less than ideal.

Despite some reservations this disc can be welcomed as an important addition to the Stradella discography. His oeuvre is hardly explored as yet, and that goes certainly for these duets.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Emma Kirkby
Christine Marsoner
Susanne Rydén
Claudio Astronio

CD Reviews