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"A voi ritorno - Cantate e concerti"

Raffaela Milanesi, sopranoa; Insieme Strumentale di Roma
Dir: Giorgio Sasso

rec: March 10 - 12, 2009, Rome, Cheisa di S. Lorenzo in Panisperna
Fuga Libera - FUG570 (© 2010) (73'08")

Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Concerto per quartetto No 4 in e minor; <>Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Concerto a quattro violini in D; Sinfonia concertata for cello, 2 violins and bc in c minorb; Vado del Piano al Monte, cantataa; Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Il Ritiro, cantataa

Giorgio Sasso, Paolo Perrone, Gabriele Politi, violin; Teresa Ceccato, violin, viola; Diego Roncallib, Andrea Fossŕ, cello; Luca Cola, double bass; Salvatore Carchiolo, harpsichord

The music of the Neapolitan school is often associated with music written in the galant idiom. But there is more to Naples than that. The compositions of three of its main representatives recorded here bear witness to that.

In the booklet makes mention of the opposition between two rival clans in Naples, the Leists and the Durantists. The former were supporters of Leonardo Leo, the latter of Francesco Durante. But the writer, Salvatore Carchiolo, points out that the stylistic differences which are connected to these two are highly exaggerated. Durante is associated with the more modern, galant style, whereas Leo is considered rather conservative. But in some ways this disc proves the opposite in that the cantata by Leo reflects the galant idiom, whereas Durante's Concerto per quartetto in e minor is full of counterpoint.

The third composer is Nicolň Porpora, who was one of the most famous Italian masters of his time, and was celebrated at various places in Europe. He spent some time in London, where he developed into one of Handel's main rivals. His reputation also derived from his activities as singing teacher. Among his pupils were some of Europe's most famous castratos, Farinelli and Caffarelli. He not only composed a large number of operas, but also many chamber cantatas, of which about 130 have been preserved. Il Ritiro is remarkable in several ways. Firstly, whereas cantatas were usually scored for solo voice and basso continuo, in this cantata Porpora has added parts for strings, not just two violins but also a viola, which is very rare. Also remarkable is the design of this cantata: it begins with a sinfonia, which is in two sections, slow - fast, just like an opera overture. It is followed by two recitative-aria pairs. Notable is the second recitative, which is a recitativo accompagnato. Unusual is also the length of the two arias, which both last about 8 minutes. Lastly, counterpoint is a distinctive feature of this piece. In both arias the strings create a polyphonic web around the voice. Often cantatas are like mini-operas, but this piece has a pastoral character which is immediately expressed in the first section of the sinfonia. In comparison Vado dal Piano al Monte by Leonardo Leo is more galant in style, with less counterpoint, despite the scoring with two violins. It also breaks with tradition in that the first recitative has gone.

Today Leo's instrumental music is better-known than his vocal oeuvre. In particular his cello concertos have met considerable interest. Although the piece played here is called sinfonia concertata it is nothing else than a cello concerto. The absence of a viola part suggests a performance with one instrument per part, which lends it the character of a concerto da camera. Leo's fondness of counterpoint is expressed in the Concerto in D which is scored for four violins and basso continuo. Its scoring is not unique: Musica antiqua Köln once recorded a complete disc of concertos with four violins. The second movement of this concerto is a fugue.

Francesco Durante is represented with just one piece, which also bears witness to his skills in writing counterpoint. The Concerto in e minor is one of a series of Concerti per quartetto. The second movement has the somewhat anachronistic indication ricercare del quarto tono, a reference to the 17th century.

The choice of repertoire on this disc is suitable to show the wide range of compositional styles of Neapolitan composers of the second quarter of the 18th century. And that should help to correct the one-sided picture of the Neapolitan school. It is just an unhappy coincidence that the instrumental pieces have all been recorded before. I already mentioned the recording by Musica antiqua Köln (Archiv). Its performance of Leo's Concerto in D is clearly better than the one on this disc. The same can be said about Durante's Concerto in e minor. All Concerti per quartetto have been recorded by Concerto Köln, and that set of discs was reissued only recently (Phoenix). Their performances are more polished and have to be preferred. That leaves the cello concerto, which has been given a fine performance by Anner Bijlsma and Tafelmusik (ATMA). But if I recall correctly it is played with more instruments per part, which makes the present recording a probably more 'historically correct' alternative.

The main significance of this disc is the recording of the two cantatas by Porpora and Leo, whose vocal works deserve more interest. They are beautifully sung by Raffaela Milanesi, who has the right temperament and stylistic insight to give convincing and absorbing performances. Here the ensemble is also better than in the instrumental works where there are some rough edges and the intonation is sometimes a bit suspect.

Despite my reservations, this is a disc to be recommended to anyone who likes Italian music. There is plenty to enjoy. The booklet contains a lengthy essay in Italian, as well as the lyrics, all with translations in French and English. It would have been nice if the English translator would have translated the Italian word viola correctly: it is in English also a viola, not a viol.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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Giorgio Sasso

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