musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Alessandro STRADELLA (1643 - 1682): "Cantatas & Serenatas Vol. 2"

Anna Chierichettib, Rosita Frisanibc, Francesca Ji-Hyun Parka, soprano; Gianluca Buratto, bassc
Alessandro Stradella Consort
Dir: Estévan Velardi

rec: March 1 - 6bc & April 28a, 2006, Sori (Genoa), Oratorio di S. Erasmo
Dynamic - CDS7894 (R) (© 2021) (67'32")
Liner-notes: E/IT; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Apre l'uomo infelicea; Per tua vaga beltadeb; Qui dove fa soggiornoc

Riccardo Minasi, Riccardo Manuel Vartolo, violinbc; Ludovico Minasia, Marco Testoribc, cello; Maurizio Less, violone; Marina Bonetti, harp; Diego Cantalupi, archlute, guitar; Pietro Prosser, theorbo, guitar; Davide Pozzi, harpsichord

Alessandro Stradella was one of the most admired singers and composers of his time. In the former capacity he was compared with the mythological singer Orpheus, and his compositions were well received. He had good contacts with powerful people, and he took advantage of that when he needed protection. That was often the case: in fact, for most of his life he was on the run, due to his many love affairs and financial malversations. One of his love affairs ended fatally: in 1682 he was murdered by a hired killer, probably sent by an aristocrat who resented Stradella's relationship with one of his sisters.

Stradella's oeuvre comprises some sacred music and oratorios, but mainly secular vocal music: operas, serenatas, cantatas and arias. The Italian conductor Estévan Velardi is one of the main promoters of his music, and over the last couple of decades he has recorded a number of Stradella's works. Some of them have been reissued in recent years. The disc under review here is one of them: the recordings date from 2006. The booklet includes an extensive biography of Stradella, but unfortunately this seems to be the same as accompanied the first release. It starts with discussing the year of Stradella's birth: at that time it was assumed that he was born in 1639, and that is the year mentioned in my edition of New Grove. However, today it is hardly necessary to dwell on this issue, as more recent recordings all mention 1643 as the year of his birth.

As I have never encountered the original release, I don't know whether it included the lyrics. The present edition does not: the liner-notes mention that in Per tua vaga beltade "Stradella presents ample melodies, strictly adherent to the text", but if that text is omitted, we have to take the author's word for it. Recently I have reviewed several recordings of Italian cantatas which came without lyrics, or, in case they were included, without translations. That won't help to make them more accessible and to convince listeners of their qualities.

The three items included here are counted among the cantatas. However, they have not that much in common with the many cantatas written in the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th century by the likes of Alessandro Scarlatti, Vivaldi or Albinoni. They are considerably longer than the chamber cantatas of later times. They also have a wider subject matter, and were often performed for a larger audience than chamber cantatas, which were mostly sung during the gatherings of the academies. Many of Stradella's cantatas show strong similarity to what was to become the serenata, a popular form of musical entertainment during the first half of the next century.

The first piece, Apre l'uomo infelice, is ranked among the moral cantatas in New Grove. "The text allegorically represents the impermanence of human life, from birth to death; various episodes represent different stages in life, imitating its evolution by means of refined musical devices" (booklet). It is scored for soprano and basso continuo, and comprises mainly recitatives and ariosos, which are not clearly divided. Some sections are 'arias', but overall there is not much difference in character between the sections. The solo part is quite demanding, and betrays Stradella's operatic talent. Francesa Ji-Hyun Park has what it takes to deal with the virtuosic coloratura, but unfortunately little feeling for the style of the baroque era. Her incessant and wide vibrato makes her performance hard to swallow.

Qui dove fa soggiorno is a cantata for soprano, bass, two violins ans basso continuo. It consists of a sequence of recitatives (one of which ends as an arioso), arias and three duets. Surprisingly, the work ends with a recitative, something that was not unusual in the 18th-century chamber cantata. The content is pastoral: the cantata "takes us to the Roman countryside (the Seven Hills are mentioned), where Soprano and Bass discuss the power of Love once it is declared and, on the contrary, the pain caused by undeclared love" (booklet). It is rightly added that in this piece "an Arcadic atmosphere prevails". This reflects the ideals of the baroque era, and that is what this cantata has in common with most chamber cantatas of the next century. Rosita Frisani and Gianluca Buratto deliver good performances, but the way they sing is different. I like Frisani's voice better than Ji-Hyun Park's in the previous cantata; it is more flexible and better suited to baroque music, but I regret that she also uses quite some vibrato. Buratto has a very nice voice, and is much more modest in this department. They are a good match in the duets.

Per tua vaga beltade is also scored for two voices, but this time two sopranos. It has also parts for two violins, which open the cantata with a sinfonia. It is most close to what was to become the serenata. That is also suggested by the fact that it is part of a manuscript which includes two serenatas, one of which has been recorded in the first volume (which I have not heard). The two singers - Anna Chierichetti and Rosita Frisani - represent two different characters, with the names of Dorillo and Lilla. The former refers to unrequited love, the latter expresses a desire for freedom. The track-list does not mention which of the two is singing, and the voices are also not that different. Not that it matters very much, because their way of singing is very much alike, and the usual problem of this kind of recordings these days - a pretty extensive use of vibrato - manifests itself here as well. Fortunately, they reduce it in the duets, which are in fact the best parts of this work. Then one wonders why they did not do the same in the recitatives and arias.

As one may understand by now, I am not overly enthusiastic about this disc. I like Stradella's music, and this disc does not fail to demonstrate its quality, and make one understand why it was so highly appreciated in his time. However, it is not served that well, neither by the singers involved in this recording nor by the production. A disc like this has to be released with at least the lyrics, preferably with an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Gianluca Buratto
Anna Chierichetti
Alessandro Stradella Consort

CD Reviews