musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Arias of the 17th and 18th centuries

[I] "Quella fiamma - Arie Antiche"
Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto
Orfeo 55
Dir: Nathalie Stutzmann
rec: August 15 - 21, 2016, Lyon, Chapelle de la Trinité
Erato - 0190295765293 (© 2017) (73'19")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Arie Antiche (ed. Pisotti)

Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747): Griselda, drama (1722) (Per la gloria d'adorarvi); Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618): Amarilli mia bella; Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): La costanza in amor vince l'inganno, drama pastorale (1711) (Sebben, crudele); Samuel CAPRICORNUS (1628-1665): Sonata IV a 3; Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674): Vittoria, mio core; Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Giasone, drama musicale (1649) (Delizie, contenti); Antonio CESTI (1623-1669): Orontea, dramma musicale (1656) (Intorno all'idol mio); Francesco CONTI (c1681/82-1732): Doppo tante e tante pene, cantata; Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Concerto a quartetto No. 1 in f minor (poco andante); Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile; Vergin, tutto amor Andrea FALCONIERI (c1585/86-1656): Passacalle; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Alcina, opera (1735) (HWV 34) (Ah! mio cor, schernito sei); Giulio Cesare in Egitto, opera (1724) (HWV 17) (Piangerò la sorte mia); Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Eteocle e Polinice, dramma per musica (1675) (Che fiero costume); Alessandro MARCELLO (1673-1747): Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in d minor (adagio); Jean-Paul-Égide MARTINI (1741-1816): Plaisir d'amour (La Romance du chevrier); Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816): L’amor contrastato [La molinara], commedia per musica (1788) (Nel cor più non mi sento); Alessandro PARISOTTI (1853-1913): Se tu m'ami; Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Concerto for cello, strings and bc in G (largo) Sonata a 3 in g minor, op. 2,3 (adagio - allegro); Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Il Pompeo, dramma per musica (1683) (O cessate di piagarmi); L'honestà negli amori, dramma per musica (1680) (Già il sole dal Gange)

Shai Kribus, oboe; Michele Fattori, bassoon; Anne Camillo, Nicola Cleary, Thelma Handy, Martha Moore, Lucien Pagnon, Fanny Paccoud, Chingyun Tu, violin; Marco Massera, Marie Legendre, viola; Patrick Langot, Anna Carewe, cello; Pasquale Massaro, double bass; Marie-Domitille Murez, harp; Miguel Rincón, theorbo, guitar; Camille Delaforge, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Dolce Duello"
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Sol Gabetta, cello
Cappella Gabetta
Dir: Andrés Gabetta
rec: March 8 - 14, 2017, Zurich-Oberstrass, Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirchgemeinde
Decca - 483 2473 (© 2017) (76'48")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1750/51): Il nascimento dell'aurora, componimento pastorale (c1710) (Aure, andante e baciate); Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805): Concerto for cello and orchestra in D (G 483); Antonio CALDARA (1679-1736): Gianguir, Imperatore del Mogol, dramma per musica (1724) (Tanto, e con sì gran piena); Nitocri, dramma per musica (1722) (Fortunato e speranza); Domenico GABRIELLI (1659-1690): San Sigismondo, Re di Borgogna, oratorio (1687) (Aure voi, de' miei sospiri); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Arianna in Creta, opera (1734) (HWV 32) (Son qual stanco pellegrino); Ode for St Cecilia's Day (1739) (HWV 76) (What passion cannot Music raise and quell); Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Gli orti esperidi, componimento drammatico (1721) (Giusto Amor, tu che m'accendi); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Tito Manlio, opera (1719) (RV 738) (De verde ulivo)

Diego Nadra, Pedro Castro, oboe; Konstantin Timokhine, Antonio Lagares Abeal, horn; Alessandro Nasello, bassoon; Andrés Gabetta, Boris Begelman, Roberto Rutkauskas, Francesco Colletti, Juliana Georgieva, Anaïs Soucaille, violin; Marco Massera, Alice Bisanti, viola; Balász Máté, Mara Miribung, cello; Ján Krigovský, double bass; Eduardo Egüez, theorbo; Giorgio Paronuzzi, harpsichord

In 1890 the publishing house Ricordi published three volumes under the title Arie Antiche, which included vocal items from the 17th and 18th centuries, arranged for voice and piano. This seems quite remarkable in a time, that many composers of the past were only known to musicologists. However, it is probably less remarkable than one may think. The 19th century was the era of musicology and historiography, and in general a vivid interest in the past. Let us not forget that in the 19th century the first volumes in a complete edition of Bach's music came from the press, and Johannes Brahms published an edition of François Couperin's harpsichord works.

But music of the past was seldom played: it was something to study and learn from in the first place. That was also the case with the collection of Arie Antiche: they were used as vocal exercises, to learn and train vocal techniques, connected to what was called belcanto. Ironically, this approach was not very different from that of the 17th and early 18th centuries: music which was more than, say, twenty years old was hardly ever performed, and if so, it was mostly adapted to the taste of the time. Someone like Bach also studied 'early music' to learn, not to perform it.

From that perspective there is no reason to be too harsh on performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who used 'early music' for their own purposes, but never thought about actually performing those arias. In our time the composers who appear in these collections are household names, although many operas and oratorios, from which the arias are taken, are still waiting to be performed. How often do we hear - in opera houses or on disc - stage works by the likes of Caldara or Bononcini?

That makes the idea to go back to the sources, which the editor of the series, Alessandro Parisotti, used for his editions, all the more interesting. It would be nice to hear those arias in their original form, as they were intended by the composers. Unfortunately, that is not the approach chosen by Nathalie Stutzmann. The reference to 'orchestrations' in the booklet already suggests what has happened here. Rather than go back to the original scorings - which are not mentioned in the track-list - the items have been adapted to Ms Stutzmann's voice. The fact that Parisotti arranged the arias for voice and piano made them usable for every type of voice. A singer could easily transpose the music to his own tessitura. In most cases I can't check for which type of voice the arias were originally intended, as I don't have access to most of the sources. But it seems likely that a number of them were scored for a soprano, whereas here they are sung by Nathalie Stutzmann, who is a real contralto. The liner-notes include at least some examples of the original scoring. The cantata Quella fiamma is scored for tenor, and the aria 'Ah! mio cor from Handel's Alcina is for soprano. Such cases explain the word 'orchestration': the original instrumental scoring did not allow for a transposition upwards or downwards.

Not that it matters very much. Nathalie Stutzmann's approach to the material is unhistorical, and so is her singing. It would certainly be interesting to present these pieces to demonstrate various singing techniques, but only if the aesthetic standards of the time are being observed. That is not the case here. The text is mostly hard to understand, Stutzmann uses a rather wide vibrato on almost any single note, and there is some odd ornamentation, for instance if she goes above the range of the vocal part. One of the most weird items is the chanson Plaisir d'amour by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini; it is from a collection of songs for voice and keyboard, and here it is turned into a tearjerker. The instrumental contributions lack any subtlety; in some cases a droning bass makes them even harder to swallow than the vocal performance alone. The choice of instrumental items is without any logic. Hardly any piece is performed complete. The strings often produce an ugly sound, and Falconieri's Passacalle is a caricature.

In short, this is a kind of musical travesty. There is nothing I really enjoyed.

Three of the composers represented in the programme which Nathalie Stutzmann has recorded, also appear on the disc of Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta: Caldara, Porpora and Handel. They are three of the composers who wrote opera arias with an obbligato part for the cello.

The cello as we know it made its first appearance in the second half of the 17th century in Italy. At first it had to share its position as a string bass with other low string instruments, in particular the bass viol. Around 1700 it began its development into one of the main instruments in Western music, first in Italy, and then also in other parts of Europe, even in France. This explains why it was used as an obbligato instrument in arias in operas and oratorios, and sometimes also in chamber cantatas. The first composer who wrote arias with an obbligato cello part was Domenico Gabrielli, himself a virtuoso on the instrument. He has become almost exclusively known for his compositions for the cello, but he also composed for the stage. Recently I reviewed a disc of the Ensemble Chiaroscuro, in which Roberta Invernizzi sang an aria with cello from Gabrielli's first opera Flavio Cuniberto (1688). Here Cecilia Bartoli sings 'Aure voi, de' miei sospiri' from his first oratorio San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna, which dates from one year earlier. Therefore it seems safe to conclude that this is his very first aria with an obbligato cello part, and it could well be the first of its kind by any composer. In this aria obbligato parts are also given to the violin and the theorbo. It is interesting to note that this piece is included in a collection of arias with cello, which was compiled by Francesco II d'Este, Duke of Modena. He was an avid player of the cello; at least three composers of fame dedicated their compositions for a string bass instrument to him: Giovanni Battista Vitali, Giuseppe Colombi and Gabrielli.

The role of the cello is different in the various arias. The title of this disc suggests that the voice and the cello - or more in general: an obbligato instrument - were involved in a kind of competition, a duel. That is also the subject of one of the essays in the booklet. However, apart from the fact that the contrast between various forces - for instance the concertino vs the ripieno in the concerto grosso and later the solo instrument vs the tutti - was a part of baroque aesthetics, there is no particular reason to believe that composers wanted to create a specific kind of duel between the two. The obbligato instrument could also be used to add a special flavour or to depict a certain affetto in an aria. And it is also quite possible that composers may have wanted to give a particular player an opportunity to shine. It is an established fact that Handel, who was a great lover of the oboe, explored the presence of a virtuoso oboist in London, such as Giuseppe Sammartini, by writing demanding obbligato parts in his arias.

He is represented here with two arias, from the opera Arianna in Creta and from the Ode for St Cecilia's Day. The aria of Alceste 'Son qual stanco pellegrino' from the former work has a rather mournful character, which is perfectly illustrated by the cello. In the Ode the cello is used in the second aria, where it probably should illustrate the "chorded shell", mostly interpreted as being a 'lyre'. From the angle of repertoire the arias by Caldara and Porpora are far more interesting, as their large-scale vocal works are little-known, if at all. Porpora is represented with an aria from one of his serenatas, Gli orti esperidi, officially called a componimento drammatico, on a libretto by Metastasio and first performed in Naples in 1721. It is for solo voice, obbligato cello and bc; the cello part has a lyrical character, reflecting the text: "Noble Love, you who inflame me, counsel me now and protect me as I face peril and fear". The arias by Caldara are taken from operas on librettos by Apostolo Zeno; both were written for and performed at the imperial court in Vienna. 'Fortuna e speranza' from Nitocri opens with a solo for the cello, which is later joined by the strings and the voice. The cello part includes some chromaticism. 'Tanto, e con sì gran piena' from Gianguir, imperatore del Mogol includes two obbligato parts, for the cello and the violin.

Albinoni is best known as a composer of instrumental music. Here we hear an aria from a serenata, dedicated to the Habsburg empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; 'Aure, andate e baciate' has the character of an aria di bravura. In his opera Tito Manlio of 1719 Vivaldi included an aria for a solo voice, cello and bc; the cello part is quite virtuosic.

Cecilia Bartoli often comes up with interesting projects. That certainly goes for the present disc as well. I have reviewed several of her previous discs, and while I appreciated her efforts to leave the well-trodden path, I was critical about her singing and her interpretations. There is no reason to change my opinions. Her incessant and pretty wide vibrato are annoying and historically untenable, and the text is often hard to understand, although she does not too badly, in comparison to Nathalie Stutzmann. Moreover, the coloratura is too much of the same: there is little differentiation between good and bad notes. In her very own way she does sing well, but it has little to do with historical performance practice. The text of Gabrielli's aria includes the phrase "echo my mournful laments". This is illustrated by a repeat of the musical phrase, and Bartoli sings it 'backstage'. That seems a mistake: it seems likely that the singer should sing it piano.

Sol Gabetta plays her obbligato parts rather well, although sometimes I noted a lack of differentiation, for instance in the articulation department, as well. The Cappella Gabetta is much better than Orfeo 55, but that is hardly an achievement. Considering the subject of this disc it is a bit odd that the programme ends with a complete cello concerto by Boccherini. It takes about 22 minutes; however well Sol Gabetta plays it, I would have preferred some more arias with obbligato cello.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Cecilia Bartoli
Sol Gabetta
Nathalie Stutzmann
Cappella Gabetta
Orfeo 55

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