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Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686 - 1768): "Vespro per la Festività dell'Assunta"

Marilia Vargasa, Michiko Takahashib, soprano; Delphine Galou, contraltoc
La Maîtrise de Bretagned; Le Parlement de Musique
Dir: Martin Gester

rec: Sept 16, 2011 (live), Ambronay, Abbaye
Éditions Ambronay - AMY030 (© 2012) (64'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Laetatus sumabd; Lauda Jerusalemabcd; Laudate pueri Dominumabcd; Salve Reginac

[La Maîtrise de Bretagne] Claire Silvestre, Anaëlle Drut-Desombre, Ael-Lynn Poupard, Claire Auffret, Astrid Van Suyt, Solenn Ewald, soprano; Marion Ewald, Brenda Poupard, Marie-Sophie Roux, Clémence Jeanson, Elise Pentecouteaux, Anne-Erell Poupard, contralto
[Le Parlement de Musique] Martyna Pastuszka, Blanka Nieciag, Clémence Schaming, Matthieu Camilieri, Ursula Garnier, James Jennings, violin; Clara Muhlethaler, viola; Patrick Langot, cello; Isabelle Dumont, violone; Simone Vallerotonda, Massimo Moscardo, theorbo; Aline Zylberajch, organ

Nicola Porpora seems to enjoy increasing popularity these days. For many years hardly any disc with his music came my way, but in the last couple of years I had the opportunity to review several discs with both secular and sacred music. Porpora has become mainly known as a composer of operas and secular cantatas, and historically he is considered one of the most important singing teachers. One of his pupils was the famous castrato Farinelli. Solfeggi which are attributed to him were still used in the 19th century.

Part of his sacred oeuvre was written during his time in Venice when he worked in various ospedali, the famous institutes for girls which were in fact conservatories. The girls were taught various instruments and also received singing lessons. The music on this disc was all written for the Ospedaletto or Ospedale dei Derelitti where Porpora was appointed as singing teacher in 1744. That is also the date of the Vespers which Martin Gester has recorded.

The title of this disc is a little misleading, though. We don't get a Vesper service as one may expect. That is even not possible: we have a list of the pieces which Porpora had included in his Vespers, but a number of them have been lost. These are the invocation Deus in adiutorium, the Psalms Dixit Dominus and Laudate pueri, the Salve Regina and the Magnificat. The Salve Regina in this performance has been chosen from another source. From a different source dating from 1745 two settings of the Psalm Laudate pueri are available. One of them has been chosen because its scoring is the same as those of the 1744 Psalms: women's voices, divided over two sopranos and alto, both in soli and tutti. Part of the live performance which was recorded for this disc was also a setting of the Dixit Dominus. Unfortunately it has been omitted because of a lack of space.

As this is no reonstruction of a Vesper service it doesn't really matter that the Salve Regina has been put at the liturgically wrong spot. It is a vocal showpiece which is typical for the Italian baroque. The second verse, 'Ad te clamamus', is treated like an opera aria. The next verse, 'Ad te suspiramus', is characterised by broad gestures, as one would expect with words like "suspiramus" (sigh), "gementes" (mourning) and "flentes" (weeping). In the verse 'Illos tuos' Porpora has included a solo part for the violin.

The programme begins with Laudate pueri Dominum which opens with a duet of the two sopranos. It becomes immediately clear that the solo parts are technically demanding, moving up and down through the scale and including very long coloraturas. It bears witness to the great skills of the girls at the various ospedali in Venice. The fourth section, 'Qui habitare', begins with a long instrumental introduction which includes a part for solo cello.

In the various Psalms cadenzas are sung at the end of several sections. In 'Quia illuc' (Laetatus sum) we even get two, at the end of each of the two sections. It only underlines the operatic character of Porpora's sacred music. This is reflected in the string parts with its vivid rhythms and often dramatic gestures.

I have nothing but admiration for the performances of the three soloists. They have very fine and agile voices, and are meeting the high requirements of this music with impressive ease. The two sopranos have voices which are easy to tell apart, but they blend perfectly. They sing with a good sense of drama without exaggeration and without using a lot of vibrato. Delphine Galou is a true contralto, with a strong and clear low register. Her performance of the Salve Regina is technically assured and expressive. The orchestra gives ardent support. The role of the choir is limited, but it sings well, and cooperation with the soloists in those sections in which they alternate is perfect.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Marilia Vargas
La Maîtrise de Bretagne
Le Parlement de Musique

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