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Andrea Stefano FIORÈ (1686 - 1732): "Sinfonie da Chiesa ed Arie profane"

Angelo Manzotti, soprano
Ensemble Isabella Leonarda

rec: [n.d.], Barnareggio (MI)< Bartok Studio
Concerto - CD 2010 (© 2009) (65'43")

[Engelberta] Allor che geme e piange; Ardea felice amante; Degne di me non siete; È il mio cor tra vari affetti; Se son morta a la tua fede; Selvagge amenità; Un bel sembiante ama sovente; Sinfonia II, op. 1,2; Sinfonia III, op. 1,3; Sinfonia V, op. 1,5; Sinfonia VI, op. 1,6; Sinfonia VIII, op. 1,8; Sinfonia XI, op. 1,11

Mario Lacchini, transverse flute; Fabio Bellofiore, violin; Eugenio Silvestri, violin, viola; Alessandro Bares, viola; Claudio Frigerio, cello; Francesco Silvestri, harpsichord, organ

The revival of early music in Italy hasn't only had a lasting effect on the way Italian music is performed, it has also changed the landscape of Italian music. It is mainly thanks to Italian musicians and ensembles that the already long list of Italian composers of any substance is still growing. One of the many masters who have disappeared into the dust of history is Andrea Stefano Fiorè. He is not a minor master who worked in a little town, far away from the centres of music making. The fact that the opera Engelberta was once attributed to Benedetto Marcello is an indication of his qualities as a composer.

Fiorè was a child prodigy, whose first collection of music, the 12 Sinfonie da chiesa opus 1, were published in 1699, when he had just turned 13. At the time he was in the service of Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy, in Turin and two years earlier he had joined the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, together with his father, Angelo Maria, who was considered one of the greatest cello virtuosos of his time. The opera Engelberta dates from 1704 and was performed in Milan. He composed more than 20 operas, some of which were performed in Vienna, as well as some sacred music. In 1707 the Duke of Savoy appointed him maestro di cappella, which post he held until his death. In this capacity he was in charge of the court orchestra and the singers in the cathedral.

Johann Joachim Quantz visited Turin in 1726 and was full of praise for the court orchestra. He also considered Fiorè one of the best Italian composers of sonate da chiesa. He probably was referring here to the 12 Sinfonie da chiesa opus 1 as this collection is the only opus of instrumental music which was printed. It seems Fiorè has studied with Corelli in Rome for some time, and the sonatas clearly show the influence of Corelli's sonate da chiesa. Although they follow the pattern of Corelli's sonatas, they show some individual traits too. For instance, they are written in three parts, the third of which is the cello, which is mostly largely independent from the basso continuo. The fourth movement of the Sinfonia I begins with an entrance of the cello, which has a very lively and brilliant part. Also the number of movements and their length vary. The Sinfonia VI has only three movements, whereas the Sinfonia III has five and Sinfonia V even six.

Fiorè follows in Corelli's footsteps in his use of counterpoint which is present in many movements. There is also a considerable amount of expression in these sonatas, in particular in those movements which have the marking of 'grave'. Some movements are notable for their harmonic progressions, like the adagio and the grave from the Sinfonia III and the adagio which opens the Sinfonia VI.

The disc opens with the Sinfonia I and then follow seven arias from the opera Engelberta. Like in most operas from this time the arias are relatively short - at least in comparison to the arias in operas from the 1720's and 1730's - but they all follow the pattern of the dacapo aria. The booklet doesn't tell anything about what this opera is about, nor are the lyrics printed. What is told is that the arias "illustrate unhappy situations in love experienced by various characters". All parts are scored for a castrato, and the instrumental ensemble consists of transverse flute, strings and bc.

Angelo Manzotti is a singer who presents himself as sopranista. There are several of such singers around, and very few of them are really convincing. One of them is the German Jörg Waschinsky. But Angelo Manzotti doesn't belong to this small echelon - on the contrary. It doesn't happen very often that I am laughing out loudly while listening to a disc, but this time I did. It is just unbelievable what we hear in these arias. In most of them Manzotti just pushes his voice upward to reach the top notes, and the sound that comes out is unbearable. I can't believe someone is willing to make a fool of himself by this kind of singing. He would be well advised to sing as an alto instead, since as long as he stays in his alto range he sings pretty well. His colleague Max Emanuel Cencic also has abandoned any efforts to sing soprano, and that has really given his career a boost. Manzotti should follow that example.

It is really a big shame that 24 minutes of this disc are thrown away. One could argue that these arias are the only possibility to get acquainted with what Fiorè has to offer in regard to opera. But that requires a large amount of tolerance and for Manzotti's singing I just don't have that. I am sure I'm going to skip the vocal tracks the next time I am going to play this disc.
That is something I am going to do, because Fiorè's music is really good and well worth listening to. The ensemble does a good job, although the playing is less polished than one would wish and the intonation is a bit suspect now and then. That doesn't diminish my enjoyment of these Sinfonie, even though Angelo Manzotti is trying to spoil the party.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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