musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Scarlatti and the Neapolitan Song"

Letizia Calandra, sopranoa; Michele Pasotti, guitarb; Francesco Cera, harpsichord

rec: Sept 2009, Colle di Tora (Rieti), Chiesa di S. Anatolia
Brilliant Classics - 94488 (© 2013) (56'42")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

anon: Facimmo mo l'amore - No quarto d'oraa; La nova gelosiaa; Lo guarracinoab; Michelemmąa; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Lo frate 'nnamorato, opera (Chi disse ca la femmena)a; SANT' ALFONSO DE LIGUORI (1696-1787): Quanno nascette ninnoa; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in d minor (K 9); Sonata in G (K 103); Sonata in G (K 153); Sonata in c minor (K 174); Sonata in d minor (K 176); Sonata in B flat (K 202); Sonata in D (K 214); Sonata in G (K 241); Sonata in C (K 513); Leonardo VINCI (1696-1730): Lo cecato fauzo, opera (So' li sorbe e le nespole amare)a;

Renato Criscuolo, celloa, cello piccolob; Luca Marzetti, violonec, double bassd; Michele Carreca, theorboe; Alberto Bagnai, harpsichordf, organg

Throughout music history composers have been influenced by traditional music. Telemann, for instance, heard Polish music in the early stages of his career and incorporated elements of it in his compositions. Domenico Scarlatti lived and worked most of his life in Spain, and it is often noted that his keyboard sonatas show the influence of Spanish traditional music. That comes to the fore, for instance, in the percussionistic elements in many sonatas. However, exactly which music influenced him is much harder to establish. This disc is an interesting attempt to shed light on another influence: that of traditional Neapolitan music.

Domenico was born in Naples as the son of Alessandro who at the time was maestro di cappella of the royal chapel. He held this post until 1702 which means that Domenico must have heard Neapolitan music during his formative years. It is almost inevitable that this had considerable influence on his development as a composer.

This disc mixes specimens of Neapolitan vocal music with keyboard sonatas. Some of the vocal items belong to the category of traditional music. The tarantella in particular is characteristic of Neapolitan music - a folkdance in 3/8 or 6/8 rhythm. A specimen of such a tarantella is Lo guarracino, in 19 stanzas telling a story about a fish that wants to marry. This is all metaphorical, of course, and has a clear satirical character. It is just a shame that the text - in Neapolitan dialect - is only translated into Italian and not into English. In regard to the influence of such songs on Scarlatti's music, that is much more a matter of rhythm and affetti than of melody. The liner-notes don't give any information about the dates of the traditional songs anyway. In the case of Lo guarracino it is merely said that it was one of the most popular tarantellas of the 18th century, and that suggests that Scarlatti may not even have known it.

La nova gelosia is an example of a canzona whose melancholic character is reflected in sonatas by Scarlatti, for instance in K 174. A clear example of a melody which turns up in Scarlatti's music is the pastoral song Quanno nascette ninno. As with so many pastoral music this has a siciliano rhythm, which is also used by Scarlatti in his sonata K 513. However, he also includes its melody at the end of the moderato section. This piece raises some questions, though. The liner-notes state that this song was composed by Sant' Alfonso de Liguori in the early 1700s. At that time he would have been barely ten years old. That seems implausible, and if it was written later it is very unlikely Scarlatti would ever have heard it. Moreover, Alfonso was not a composer, but rather a theologian and bishop. The same tune turns up in the well-known Christmas cantata O di Betlemme altera by Scarlatti's father Alessandro. It seems more likely that the text was written by Sant' Alfonso on an existing tune.

According to Francesco Cera Scarlatti also included in his works references to Neapolitan operas whose arias often imitate traditional music. The two extracts from operas by Vinci and Pergolesi are specimens of this phenomenon; both works were written, by the way, well after Scarlatti had left Naples.

The connection between the music of a composer such as Domenico Scarlatti and traditional music is interesting from a historical point of view. It can provide us with a deeper insight into a composer's development. It could also have practical consequences in regard to performance practice. Cera sees in the Sonata K 174 a reflection of the melancholic character of the preceding song, La nova gelosia. That could well explain the rather moderate tempo he has chosen for this sonata, marked 'allegro'.

This is definitely a most intriguing disc. Anyone interested in Scarlatti should consider it, as it approaches his music from a rather uncommon angle. However, even here it is nearly impossible to be sure which kind of pieces Scarlatti knew. The music on this disc gives an idea of the musical air he must have inhaled in his early years and which has left its mark in his oeuvre.

The performances are convincing in every respect. Letizia Calandra is a singer who specialises in early music and has a particular interest in Neapolitan song. That is a prerequisite for a good performance of this repertoire in the Neapolitan language. Ms Calandra's performance is very natural. Cera delivers fine interpretations of the various sonatas on a beautiful instrument, a copy of a Neapolitan harpsichord from around 1650. Michele Pasotti's guitar lends a special flavour to Lo guarracino.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Letizia Calandra
Francesco Cera

CD Reviews