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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): "Cantatas & Recorder Concertos"

Roberta Invernizzi, soprano
Collegium Pro Musica

rec: Sept 12 - 14, 2017, Genua, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Prato
Brilliant Classics - 95721 ( 2019) (55'17")
Liner-notes: E/I; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bella dama di nome santa; Bella, s'io t'amo (Ardo ver per te d'amore); Concerto (Sonata) XXII in A; Concerto (Sonata) XXIII in C; Quella pace gradita

Stefano Bagliano, recorder; Federico Guglielmo, Alessia Pazzaglia, violin; Leonardo Massa, cello; Andrea Coen, harpsichord

This disc is more than just a compilation of vocal and instrumental works, brought together for the sake of variety. The thread of the programme is the recorder, which is the soloist in the two concertos and which has also obbligato parts in the three cantatas. On the one hand, the prominent role of the recorder is remarkable, considering that Scarlatti is said to have had a rather negative attitude towards wind instruments in general because of their intonation insecurities. On the other hand, Scarlatti worked for most of his life in Naples, and here the recorder seems to have played quite an important role in music life.

The collection of sonatas and concertos from which the two instrumental works on this disc are taken, bears witness to that. It is known as the Manoscritto di Napoli 1725 and includes 24 pieces for recorder and strings by several composers from Naples, such as Francesco Mancini and Domenico Sarri. Scarlatti is represented with seven concertos. The two included here are modelled after the concerto da chiesa and are in four movements, the second of which is a fugue. These pieces are testimonies of Scarlatti's command of counterpoint, which was a hallmark of his style and which made his oeuvre look outdated in the last stages of his life. The Concerto XXIII in C ends quite surprisingly.

These concertos have been recorded before, and that also goes for the three cantatas. Given that recorder players are always looking for technically challenging material, that does not surprise, as in these pieces the recorder is not merely a nice addition, but rather plays a substantial role, almost on equal footing with the voice. Scarlatti was not only the most productive composer of chamber cantatas, but he was also the one who laid down the basic form of the genre. It usually comprised two pairs of recitative and aria, and was mostly scored for solo voice and basso continuo. However, Scarlatti also derived from this basic form, for instance by extending the number of recitatives and arias, adding an introductory instrumental movement and parts for melody instruments. The three cantatas included here are examples of this.

Bella dama di nome santa is for soprano, recorder, two violins and basso continuo, and opens with an introduzzione, which is followed by two pairs of recitative and aria. The role of the violins is confined to that of the ritornello. The cantata whose title in the track-list is Ardo ver per te d'amore is called Bella, s'io t'amo in other recordings, as for a long time the opening recitative was missing, but some time ago this was found, and as a result it now comprises two pairs of recitative and aria. The cantata is scored for soprano, recorder and basso continuo. In Quella pace gradita, soprano and recorder are joined by a violin. It opens with a sinfonia, in which the cello also has an obbligato part, which creates a four-part texture. It is followed by three pairs of recitative and aria. In the first aria, the recorder does not participate; there the soprano is partnered by the violin. In the second aria the recorder and the violin only play the concluding ritornello. In the last aria they both participate from start to finish.

In chamber cantatas (just as in opera arias) the instruments are often connected to elements in the text. When the latter refers to a bird, for instance, one may expect a recorder or (especially later in the baroque period) a transverse flute. In the cantatas performed here, the latter is only the case in the closing aria of Quella pace gradita, which opens with the words "With you, o mournful turtle-dove, I want to live in your company." Stefano Bagliano, in his liner-notes, points out that the recorder reflected the bucolic ideal of the Arcadian academies, for which most chamber cantatas were written. That ideal comes also to the fore in the texts, in which characters from the Arcadian world figure prominently, and which are about the trials and tribulations of love. The latter explain also the remarkable use of harmony in these three cantatas. Especially in the recitatives, Scarlatti makes regularly use of dissonances, chromatism and sudden harmonic shifts to illustrate the feelings of the protagonist.

Taking this into consideration, it is particularly regrettable that the booklet omits the lyrics. For this review I could turn to another recording of these same cantatas, by Clara Rottsolk and the Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players. I strongly advise to download its booklet in order to follow the lyrics. As far as the performances are concerned, I like both, but tend to prefer the Chandos disc. Roberta Invernizzi has a wonderful voice and really dives into the texts to bring out their meaning and explore their expressive features. However, she also use quite some vibrato, in particular at the end of phrases, which I find regrettable for historical and stylistic reasons. The instrumental parts are well played in both recordings, but here I prefer the Collegium Pro Musica, as Tempesta di Mare is sometimes a bit too restrained. If you have less problems with Invernizzi's singing than I, this disc is one you should not miss, as Scarlatti's music is of excellent quality and these five pieces are highly entertaining.

Johan van Veen ( 2021)

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