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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639 - 1682): "Amanti, olà, olà! - Chi resiste al Dio bendato"
Rosita Frisaniab, Cristiana Presuttia, Anna Chierichettiab, soprano; Gianluca Belfiori Doro, altoa; Mario Cecchettia, Makoto Sakuradaa, tenor; Riccardo Ristori, bassab
Alessandro Stradella Consort
Dir: Estevan Velardi

rec: October 7 - 9, 2000b, June 19 - 22, 2001 & May 4 - 5, 2005a, Genoa, Oratorio di S. Erasmo a Sori
Chandos - CHAN 0728 (© 2006) (73'43")

Amanti, olà, olà!, Accademia d'Amore a 5 vocia; Chi resiste al Dio bendatob

Alessandro Stradella is one of the very few composers of the Italian 17th century who has never fallen into oblivion. But there were no musical reasons for this, but it was rather his adventurous life, full of adultery and affairs with women and, most of all, his violent death which stirred the imagination. Stradella became the subject of a number of operas, of which Friedrich von Flotow's is the most famous.

Being born in 1639 in Nepi in the province of Viterbo Stradella started working as a musician and composer in Rome, where his family had settled. Among his patrons were some of the best-known aristocratic families in Rome and the Swedish Queen Christina, who had moved to Rome after converting to Catholicism and whose court became a centre of arts and music. His secondary job of matchmaking brought him into trouble, forcing him to take refuge in Venice. Here an illicit relationship caused him to be assaulted, and he fled to Genoa. It was another affair here which cost him his life. He was stabbed to death by hired assassins, but their identity remained a mystery. After his death Stradella was called 'un Orfeo assassinato' - an Orfeo being murdered. This is evidence of his reputation, probably not only as a composer but also as a singer as he seems to have had a very fine tenor voice.

Stradella composed around 300 works in almost every genre: operas, serenades, oratorios, cantatas, songs, madrigals and instrumental works. Among the most famous are his oratorio San Giovanni Battista, whose first modern performance took place in 1949. Another oratorio, La Susanna, has also received several performances and has been recorded a couple of times. But Stradella's secular vocal works haven't fared that well, and most of them are still to be rediscovered. This disc is a good step in this process. The two compositions recorded here are different in size and character, but share some of the features of Stradella's style of composing.

One of these features is the treatment of the orchestra. Stradella must have been one of the first to apply the principle of splitting the instrumental ensemble into a concertino and a concerto grosso. It is proven that Arcangelo Corelli was taking part in the first performance of San Giovanni Battista, where this practice is also used, and it must have influenced his development of the concerto grosso as an independent musical form. As in Corelli's Concerti grossi op. 8 the concertino in the compositions on this disc consist of two violins and cello. The concerto grosso contains the usual body of strings. In this performance the basso continuo section includes a 'Spanish guitar', which is used to great effect at several moments. In some sections the violins are split into four different parts, which demonstrates Stradellas originality in his use of instruments. But it is all at the service of expression, which is one of the strengths of his composing. This also explains the dissonances and sudden modulations in some instrumental sections in the works recorded here.

The first work is called an Accademia d'Amore. It is an academic discourse about love, in which eight characters are involved: Bellezza (Beauty), Cortesia (Courtesy), Capriccio (Fancy), Amore (Love), Rigore (Discipline), Disinganno (Disenchantment) and two Accademiche (Academicians). The work consists of a sequence of recitatives and arias and a couple of duets. The recitatives are sometimes strongly declamatory, but often shift towards lyricism. Most arias are rather short, but there is one long aria in which Bellezza underlines her argument that beauty is the main aspect of love: "The beauty of a lovely face is paradise for every heart". Like some other arias it is in two stanzas, which are both followed by a ritornello. It is very expressive and serious in character. At the other end of the spectrum is the aria of Disinganno, 'Si guardo', which he himself in the preceding recitative describes as 'uno scherzo musicale', "a light-hearted ditty". Just as the argument threatens to go out of hand, Amore proposes to bid farewell by joining in a madrigal. It is for five voices which are remarkably accompanied by basso continuo only.

The second piece is much shorter and is assumed being composed towards the end of Stradella's life. In this work he makes use of the dacapo structure, which is absent in the first work. There the musical material is sometimes repeated, but always on a different text. The subject of this short cantata is the same: the influence of love on the human spirit. Here there are no characters, just three voices: two sopranos and a bass. The second soprano and the bass only sing duets, the arias are all for the first soprano. Here again we find a lengthy aria: 'Chi del bendato arcier'. On the whole the arias are more virtuosic than in the Accademia d'Amore.

This disc is an important contribution to the exploration of the oeuvre of Alessandro Stradella. From that perspective it is very recommendable as it shows the great qualities of Stradella's music. But the performances leave something to be desired. The instrumental ensemble is playing very well, both in the concertino and in the concerto grosso. The basso continuo section gives excellent support to the singers. Most of them do a fine job, in particular the sopranos Rosita Frisani and Cristiana Presutti. But some others, especially Gianluca Belfiori Doro and Riccardo Ristori, are using quite a lot of vibrato, which makes them blend not very well with the other voices. That is in particular the case in the madrigals which open and conclude the Accademia d'Amore, but also the duets of soprano II and bass in the cantata. It may not bother some, but for me it takes something away from my enjoyment of this recording.

Despite these critical remarks I recommend this disc because of the quality of the music and the overall level of performance. The booklet contains all lyrics with an English translation and an extensive description of all sections of these two works.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Alessandro Stradella Consort

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