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Antonio CALDARA (1670 - 1736): "Antonio Caldara and the cello"

Eugenia Boix, sopranoa; Luciana Mancini, mezzo-sopranob
La Ritirata
Dir: Josetxu Obregón

rec: Oct 2019, Getafe, Conservatorio Profesional de Música (auditorium)
Glossa - GCD 923108 (© 2020) (81'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/ES; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto per camera for cello, 2 violins and bc in d minor; Lezione for cello and bc No. 6; Lezione for cello and bc No. 14; Lezione for cello and bc No. 20; Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo, oratorio (Pompe inutili)b; Porgete per pietà, cantataa; Sinfonia for cello and bc in D; Soffri, mio caro Alcino, cantata (Dolce è pur d'amor l'affanno)b; Sonata III for cello and bc in B flat; Sonata V for cello and bc in F (adagio) Sonata IX for cello and bc in G (allegro); Sonata XVI for cello and bc in G (largo); Vicino a un rivoletto, cantata (Aimè sento il mio core)b

Anaïs Chen, Pablo Prieto, violin; Josetxu Obregón*, Ruth Verona, cello; Ismael Campanero, violone, double bass; Daniel Zapico, theorbo, guitar; Franziska Fleischanderl, salterio; Daniel Oyarzabal, harpsichord, organ *solo

When Antonio Caldara entered the service of the imperial court in Vienna in 1716 he soon developed into one of the most famous composers in Europe. He took up the position of vice-Kapellmeister under Johann Joseph Fux and first court composer. In this capacity he was responsible for the composition of operas and other vocal works, not only for regular performances at the Hoftheater, but also at special occasions, such as birthdays and namedays of the Emperor and Empress. Charles VI was an ardent lover of music, as his predecessors had been, and that had resulted in a musical infrastructure which was second to none in Europe.

Caldara's oeuvre is huge; the number of his compositions is estimated at around 3,400. Despite his historical importance only a small part of his oeuvre is known today. It is telling that it is not catalogued as yet. The fact that only a very small portion was printed in his lifetime doesn't help. This can probably be explained by the fact that the largest part of his oeuvre consists of large-scale works, such as operas, serenatas and oratorios which were mostly not printed, and his compositions were usually written for specific occasions and places - such as the imperial court in Vienna - or specific persons.

Caldara was educated as a cellist, and as composers often wrote music for their own use, one would expect a substantial number of works for the cello. However, his oeuvre includes only a relatively small number of sonatas for cello and basso continuo, which he wrote late in his career at the request of the German count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid. They have been recorded before, and the disc under review, which sheds light on Caldara the cellist, therefore focuses on other pieces for or with cello. It opens with the single concerto that Caldara has written for any instrument; it has the form of a concerto da camera, as we know it from, for instance, Antonio Vivaldi, in which the solo instrument is accompanied by two violins and basso continuo, and a viola part is omitted. It is a fine work, and a valuable addition to the repertoire. This may well be the very first time it appears on disc.

That may also be the case with the Lezioni for cello and basso continuo. They are taken from a set of 44 such pieces which are part of a musical collection which originally belonged to the Este family, and today preserved in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. As their titles suggest, they were intended as pedagogical material, but that does not imply they are of no musical interest. The three Lezioni performed here, prove otherwise. From the same collection is the Sinfonia in D. The best-known works for cello are the sonatas, which Caldara wrote at the end of his life. Here only one sonata and a few movements from three others are included. As I wrote above, they are available on disc complete, and it was a good idea to focus rather on other parts of Caldara's oeuvre.

Part of that is his vocal music, which constitutes the largest part of his oeuvre. In fact, he is almost exclusively known for that part of his output, and that goes especially for his oratorios. He wrote 42 such pieces, and Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo has become his best-known; it is available in several recordings. In his vocal works Caldara often included arias with an obbligato part for the cello, and it seems very likely that he played such parts himself during performances. The present disc offers several specimens of such arias.

'Pompe inutile' is a lamento by Magdalene from Caldara's above-mentioned oratorio, which has an obbligato cello part. The text comprises just three lines: two in the A-setion, and one in the B-section. The latter is an expression of anger - "Disappear, you dreadful images of error" - and is in strong contrast with the preceding two lines. The remaining works bring us into Arcadia, the imaginary world that was the ideal of the higher echelons of society in Caldara's time, and was the main subject of chamber cantatas, as they were performed especially during the gatherings of the academies in Italy. Vicino a un rivoletto is one of Caldara's best-known cantatas, and includes an aria with an obbligato cello part. Porgete per pietà, on the other hand, receives its premiere here. It comprises two pairs of recitative and aria, which was the standard since Alessandro Scarlatti. However, the participation of violin and cello in obbligato roles, in which they get involved in a dialogue, is rather unusual. The last vocal piece is again an aria from a cantata; in 'Dolce è pur d'amor l'affanno' the cello does not have an obbligato role, but only participates in the basso continuo, as was common practice at the time.

As I wrote at the start of this review, there is still much to discover in Caldara's oeuvre. This disc includes several little known or unknown pieces, and that makes it a substantial addition to the discography. The music by Caldara performed here is served very well by Josetxu Obregón and his ensemble. He is an outstanding cellist, who has made some very fine recordings in the past, and delivers splendid performances here. The tempi are well-chosen and I like the marked dynamic accents. Obregón has invited two very good singers. I have much enjoyed the performances by Eugenia Boix and Luciana Mancini. However, in both cases I am not happy with the habit to rewrite the music, as it were, in the dacapos. Both take too much freedom in that department, as well as in the cadenzas, where they cross the boundaries of the tessitura of their respective parts.

That does not prevent me from recommending this disc, which testifies to the quality of Caldara's oeuvre, and which will give much pleasure to lovers of baroque music, especially those who have a particular liking of the cello.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Eugenia Boix
La Ritirata

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