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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): Davidis pugna et victoria, oratorio in 2 parts

Roberta Invernizzi (David), Robin Johannsen (Jonatha, Uno ex Coro Hebraeorum), soprano; Martin Oro (Alter ex Coro Hebraeorum, Saul), alto; Fredrik Akselberg (Testo), tenor; Antonio Abete (Golia), bass
Academia Montis Regalis
Dir: Alessandro de Marchi

rec: March 5 - 9, 2008, Mondově, Oratorio Santa Croce (Sala Ghislieri)
Hyperion - CDA67714 (© 2009) (64'50")

The oratorio is one of the main genres in the music of the baroque era. It was very popular in especially Italy and at the court in Vienna, and this has resulted in a large number of compositions in this genre. The foundation of the baroque oratorio was laid by Giacomo Carissimi in Rome around the middle of the 17th century. Almost all of his oratorios were in Latin, and they contained a part for a testo, telling the story from the Bible which the oratorio dealt with. But in the last decades of the 17th century the oratorio started to change in character. The Latin text was gradually replaced by texts in Italian, resulting in the oratorio volgare. The texts from the Bible were replaced by free poetic texts and as a result the testo disappeared from the cast.

This development is reflected in the oeuvre of Alessandro Scarlatti who composed oratorios of both kinds. So far it is mostly his oratorios on Italian text which has been given attention to, but this recording brings an oratorio on a Latin text. Davidis pugna et victoria shows the transition from the Latin to the Italian oratorio. It is based on a free poetic text, and although it contains a role for the testo, this part is rather small in comparison to the older Latin oratorios. A conservative trait is the setting of choruses for double choir, and the inclusion of both strophic and dacapo arias is typical for the last decades of the 17th century.

One of the main features of this oratorio is the way the characters are portrayed and their relationships are worked out. The first part is dominated by three characters: Saul, his son Jonathan, and David. First we learn about Saul's fear of Goliath and the Philistines, in sharp contrast to the optimism and hope of Jonathan. Their opposite feelings are directly juxtaposed in the duet 'Tuba fugam concrepet' in which each has just one line. Whereas Saul sings "Let the trumpet sound for retreat", Jonathan says "Let the trumpet sound for battle". With its eight vocal and five instrumental parts the chorus 'Eamus, fugiamus' expresses the chaos and panic in the Israelite camp.

In the second section of the first part David turns up who urges the army: "Whither do you retreat my soldiers? Cease your flight, David commands you, with the voice of God". Jonathan immediately recognizes that David shares his view on the situation, and this is expressed through a series of arias and duets. Scarlatti uses the strophic aria to underline their congeniality by giving David and Jonathan one strophe each with the same musical material. In addition the duets emphasize the personal friendship developing between them. Their trust in God is reflected then by the Israelites: the first part ends with the chorus 'Vincemus, Io, vincemus': "We shall triumph and win victory from the enemy".

The second part is devoted to the third confrontation, this time between Goliath and David. Their different characters are depicted with musical means. Goliath's bragging is particularly expressed through extended coloraturas. The two protagonists are especially juxtaposed in the centre of this part, when Goliath in an aria in which he is accompanied by the strings urges the Philistines to "conjure up the gloomy Styx (...), the demons of hell (...) and destroy the youth", which is answered by a chorus of Philistines. In contrast David sings an aria with basso continuo alone in which he prays to God for strength.

The actual defeat of Goliath is simply described by the Testo, after which the fourth contrast in the oratorio is depicted: the chorus is split in Philistines, lamenting "Alas, our comrade", and the Israelites screaming "Victory, victory". Songs of praise are then sung by two from the chorus of the Israelites, and the oratorio ends with an aria by David, warning for evil and urging the people "to fear the words of God".

The performance is generally quite good, but has some minor flaws. The most impressive and convincing members of the cast are Roberta Invernizzi and Antonio Abete. The former sings the role of David with great expression, depicting his sincerity and trust in God. The friendship with Jonathan comes out equally well, and Robin Johannsen joins Ms Invernizzi in the duets which belong to the highlights of the performance. Their is enough differentiation between their voices to tell them apart. But I probably would have perferred a singer with a somewhat stronger voice than Ms Johannsen's for the role of Jonathan. She sings her solos well, though.

Antonio Ebete is excellent in his portrayal of Goliath. His rudeness and insolence come off very well. The contrast between Goliath and David is worked out convincingly by the singers and Alessandro de Marchi. Martin Oro is alright in the role of Saul, but I find his voice a little too smooth. But he expresses the faint-heartedness of Saul quite convincingly. The role of the Testo is small: just one recitative and aria in the first part and a recitative at the end of part two. That is just as well, as Fredrik Akselberg is vocally the weak link in this recording: his aria is bland and his continuous vibrato is annoying.

The ensemble is giving good performances without being really outstanding. As in previous recordings the intonation is sometimes suspect, and the depth of the score isn't always fully explored.

Despite some reservations this disc is very welcome as it adds another fine oratorio to the growing list of recordings with music by one of the greatest composers of the baroque era.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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Academia Montis Regalis

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