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"Il pianto de Maria - The Virgin's Lament"

Bernarda Fink, mezzosopranoa; Il Giardino Armonico
Dir: Giovanni Antonini

rec: Sept 10 - 14, 2008, Valladolid, Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes
Decca/L'Oiseau Lyre - 478 1466 (© 2009) (60'54")

Francesco Bartolomeo CONTI (1681/2-1732): Il martirio di San Lorenzo, oratorio: Sento gią mancar la vitaa; Giovanni Battista FERRANDINI (c1710-1791): Il Pianto di Mariaa; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Passacaglio; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Pianto della Madonnaa; Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Sonata in c minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in d minor 'Madrigalesco' (RV 129); Sinfonia in b minor 'Al Santo Sepolcro' (RV 169); Sonata in E flat 'Al Santo Sepolcro' (RV 130)

As the veneration of Mary, the mother of Christ - the 'Holy Virgin' - increased, her lament about the death of her Son at the cross also was given more and more attention to. The 'Stabat mater' is just one specimen of a number of texts expressing Mary's grief. This disc centres around two other texts of this kind.

The longest piece is Il pianto di Maria by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini. Once this cantata was attributed to George Frideric Handel, but in the 1990s it was proven to be written by Ferrandini. He was from Venice, but at an early age he went to Bavaria where he acted as an oboist. He remained in southern Germany until 1755 when he was allowed to move to Padua for health reasons. In 1771 Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited him there.

Ferrandini was held in high regard in particular for his operas. The cantata recorded here, subtitled 'a sacred cantata to be sung before the Holy Sepulchre', is reflecting this, as it is a very dramatic piece in which not only the voice, but also the strings express the text in a sometimes very drastic way. The cantata begins with a recitative in which the events leading to Mary's lament are described, like by a testo as in the 17th-century Italian oratorio. Then Mary comes in, singing a 'cavatina'. The vocal line is rather simple, moving up and down in a quiet tempo. It is the strings which express her grief most strongly, with some heavy dissonants. This is followed by another recitative, beginning as recitativo secco, but turning into a recitativo accompagnato when the acts of several people are mentioned: "betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, shunned by the most faithful, condemned as a criminal by an unjust court". The strings continue by depicting the scourges, the thorns, the nails, with some forceful chords. The description of Christ's misery ends with the words "forsaken by Heaven". The strings fall silent, and Mary continues: "Is it not enough that I must hear his fair name uttered amid the blasphemies of this barbaric crowd?"
Then the cavatina is repeated, after which Mary sings another recitative with basso continuo, which fall silent on her closing words: "Ei muore, Ei muore!" (He dies, He dies!). The next aria, in which Mary talks about her "mournful sighs" and her Son's "grievous torments", is full of strong dissonances and fierce chords in the strings. In the following recitativo accompagnato the strings vividly depict the earthquake which accompanies Christ's death. It ends by looking forward to the future: "God decreed that three earthquakes would strike across the earth: one at the death of the Word, one at the resurrection, and the third - alas, I tremble at the thought of what may come to pass - at the Final Judgement".
Then the last aria follows which is dominated by descending lines, which contain strong chromaticism toward the end of the A section. The cantata ends with a short recitativo accompagnato: "Now if the earth did shake at the horror of witnessing God's death in such agony, tremble, man, for you are earth!". After the voice falls silent the strings close the cantata with whipping chords.

The second lament is better known. Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna is a reworking of his famous Lamento d'Arianna, the only surviving aria from his opera Arianna. It is for solo voice and basso continuo, and in it Mary speaks to her Son, and asks to share his suffering at the cross and his death. Because of its origin this is also a piece with a strongly dramatic character.

The third vocal item is a little different as it is not about Mary, but an aria from an oratorio about the martyr Saint Laurentius. It is included here as an example of how the Passion of Christ was imitated in the martyrdom of saints. Noticeable is the obbligato part for the chalumeau, often used for such lamenting music as this aria.

The instrumental pieces have mostly something to do with Holy Week. That is especially the case with Vivaldi's Sonata al Santo Sepolcro in E flat (RV 130) and the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro in b minor (RV 169), both for strings and bc, and consisting of just two movements, an adagio and a fugue. In particular in the former we hear repeated strong chords, first in the bass, then in the upper parts. The Concerto in d minor 'Madrigalesco' (RV 129) is formally not written for Holy Week, but its music is very much alike the two pieces just mentioned. It is also suggested the Sonata in c minor by Johann Georg Pisendel, written for two oboes, strings and bc, and consisting of a largo and a fugue, was inspired by these works by Vivaldi, whose pupil Pisendel has been for some years.

This disc is a highly captivating addition to the catalogue of recordings with music for Passiontide. I must admit that I often have problems with the singing of Bernarda Fink, as her heavy vibrato is hardly in line with what we know about the way this was used in the baroque era. That is also the case here. But she more than compensates this with her expression which is unequalled. In particular her performance of Ferrandini's cantata is incisive and often simply petrifying. Is it hard to imagine a more intense expression of Mary's pain and agony than she delivers in Ferrandini's cantata, which is a masterpiece. Il Giardino Armonico is just as keen to explore the instrumental effects Ferrandini is applying in order to depict what is going on during Christ's journey to the Cross. Equally eloquent is the way Bernarda Fink sings Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna.

The instrumental pieces are played with strong expression by Il Giardino Armonico, and no effect or dissonant goes by unnoticed. Giovanni Antonini gives a beautiful reading of the chalumeau part in the aria by Conti. This piece once again shows that Conti is an excellent composer who is rightly given more attention to recently.

Despite my stylistic reservations in regard to Bernarda Fink's singing this is a superior disc which no one who is interested in baroque vocal music should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Il Giardino Armonico

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