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Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710): "L'ombra di Solimano - Cantatas for Bass and Continuo"

Capella Tiberina

rec: June 19 - 25, 2021, Treviso, Museo Santa Caterina
Brilliant Classics - 95293 ( 2022) (71'01")
Liner-notes: E/IT; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Agrippina, compagni (Germanico)a; Alemanda - Correcte - [Giga] in g minorb; Bizzaria - Variazione in d minorb; Che volete da mea; Era risorta invano (L'ombra di Solimano)a; Fantasia in e minorb; Il fulmine son ioa; Misero cor, nascesti solo a piangerea; Passagagli in d minorb; Partite del Saltarello in Gb; Quei diroccati sassi (A Bella Donna sopra le ruine di Castro)a; Toccata in Fb; Versetto V in d minorb

Lisandro Abadie, bassb; Domen Marincic, cello; Sam Chapman, archlute, guitar; Alexandra Nigito, harpsichord (solob)

Bernardo Pasquini has become almost exclusively known for his keyboard music. He was considered the main organist and composer of keyboard music in Italy after the death of Girolamo Frescobaldi. However, there is more to him than just keyboard music. He was one of the leading composers in Rome in the last quarter of the 17th century, alongside Arcangelo Corelli, with whom he worked closely together at several occasions. Both were members of the Accademia Arcadia.

Pasquini was born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia, and moved to Rome in 1650, where he spent the rest of his life. He was mainly active as an organist in several churches. From 1664 until his death he was organist of the S Maria in Aracoeli, with the title 'organist of the Senate and Roman people'. He made some appearances outside Italy: in 1664 he travelled to Paris in the entourage of the papal legate, and played for Louis XIV. He has also been in Vienna at the court of Leopold I. He must have made quite an impression on the emperor, since some pupils were sent to him by Leopold. Other pupils included Johann Philipp Krieger and Georg Muffat and Italians like Francesco Gasparini and Domenico Zipoli, probably also Francesco Durante and Domenico Scarlatti.

Pasquini's oeuvre includes a substantial number of operas and oratorios; the majority of the latter has been lost. In addition he composed some cantatas for special occasions and over 50 solo cantatas, among them the six performed by the Capella Tiberina. The notable feature of these pieces is their scoring for bass. Most Italian cantatas were intended for high voices: soprano or alto, and may have been sung by either female singers or castratos. If cantatas were scored for lower voices, they may have been mostly intended for a specific singer. That seems to be the case with these cantatas.

In 1667 Pasquini entered the service of the Borghese family, and enjoyed the patronage of Prince Giovanni Battista Borghese. A member of the family's musical establishment was also the bass Francesco Verdone, who performed in operas and oratorios at the time. It seems likely that Pasquini wrote these cantatas for him; they all date from before 1694, when Verdone died.

Unfortunately the booklet omits the lyrics. According to the reverse they should be available at the Brilliant Classics site, but I have not found them. Therefore I have to rely on the information in the liner-notes to know what they are about. The picture at the frontispiece and the title refer to one of them, which opens with the words "Era risorte unvano", and is about the surrender of the Ottoman army following the Siege of Buda in 1686. It takes "the form of a lament sung by the ghost of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who had conquered the city in 1541". Another cantata, Agrippina, compagni, is also about a historical event, the poisoning of Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 BC - 19 AD), a Roman general and politician known for his campaigns in Germania. Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, governor of Hispania and consul of Africa, was suspected of being responsible for Germanicus's death. "As [Germanicus] breathes his last, Germanico beseeches his wife Agrippina and his friends to seek revenge". The third cantata on a historical subject is Quei dirocatti sassi, whose text has been preserved in a manuscript under the title of Donna sopra le ruine di Castro, which refers to the Battle of Castro that ended with the destruction of the city in 1649.

The lack of lyrics makes it also hard to see how these cantatas are constructed. However, listening to them makes immediately clear that the time that Alessandro Scarlatti established the basic form of this genre had not come yet. The only cantata of which I was able to see the score, Agrippina, compagni, includes references to aria. However, these episodes are rather short, omit a dacapo, and are integrated into the whole of the cantata. These pieces are still close to the cantatas that we know from the oeuvre of, for instance, Barbara Strozzi. I noted the same in a recording of cantatas by Pasquini's contemporary Cristofaro Caresana.

That feature makes this disc all the more interesting, as cantatas from the early phase of the genre are not that well-known and not often performed and recorded. The scoring for bass is another aspect that sets these cantatas apart from most that was written at the time. I have nothing but praise for the way Lisandro Abadie performs them. I can't tell whether he does justice to the text, but I have the impression that he does so indeed. His performances are differentiated: sometimes forceful, on other occasions much more restrained. He even adapts the sound of his voice to the different stages of a cantata. Halfway Che volete da me an episode opens with the words "A battaglia", and here Pasquini turns to the stile concitato, which is especially notable in the busy basso continuo. The latter is a substantial part of these cantatas, also due to the fact that no other instruments are involved. And as Pasquini was a famous keyboard player, it cannot surprise that he explores the possibilities of the keyboard to emphasize the content of the cantatas.

His brilliance also comes to the fore in the short keyboard pieces that are included here, and performed in alternation with the cantatas. Alexandra Nigoto delivers excellent performances, as she does in the cantatas. It is nice that she plays a historical instrument, a harpsichord built around 1685 by Mattia De Gand. It is a lovely instrument with one manual and a strong attaque, which allows for a sharp articulation.

This disc sheds light on a little-known part of Pasquini's oeuvre. The cantatas are very well-written and whet the appetite for more specimens of this genre. It is to be hoped that further cantatas from his pen are going to be recorded.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

Relevant links:

Capella Tiberina


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