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"Amore e morte dell'amore"

Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Sonia Prina, contralto
Ensemble Claudiana
Dir: Luca Pianca

rec: Dec 2012, Sion, Studio Tibor Varga
Nave - OP 30549 ( 2013) (68'29")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Son io, barbara donna [5]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sono liete, fortunate (HWV 194); Tanti strali (HWV 197); Antonio LOTTI (1665-1740): Giuramento amoroso [3]; Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739): Se morto mi brami (SF 463) [4]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Interrotte speranze (SV 132) [1]; L'incoronazione di Poppea (SV 308) (Pur ti miro); Mentre vaga angioletta (SV 157) [2]; Ohim, dov' il mio ben (SV 140) [1]; Vorrei baciarti (SV 123) [1]; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata for violin and bc in d minor (K 90)

Sources: Claudio Monteverdi, [1] Concerto: settimo libro de madrigali, con altri generi de canti, 1619; [2] Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi ... Libro ottavo, 1638; [3] Antonio Lotti, Duetti, terzetti, e madrigali a pi voci, op. 1, 1705; [4] Benedetto Marcello, Canzoni madrigalesche et arie per camera, op. 4, 1717; [5] Francesco Durante, XII duetti, [n.d.]

Riccardo Minasi, violin; Marco Frezzato, cello; Giancarlo De Frenza, double bass; Margret Kll, harp; Luca Pianca, theorbo

"The musical form known as the duetto da camera (chamber duet) enjoyed exceptional popularity throughout the Baroque era", Luca Pianca writes in his liner-notes for this recording. That may be true, but that is not reflected by the number of recordings on the market. There are many more discs with arias and solo cantatas than with duets. That may be down to the preference of singers to shine - some even record duets with themselves - and also the focus of audiences on the big stars of the music business. However, the duet gives a composer specific opportunities which explains its popularity in the baroque era.

One of these is the realization of a large amount of drama through the contrast of two voices which represent two different characters, either expressing their conflicts or their love. The latter is the case, for instance, in the famous duet which closes Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea. It should have been mentioned in the booklet that Monteverdi's authorship is questioned. However, a duet doesn't imply the involvement of two characters: in the programme of this recording there are no other pieces of this kind. In the duets by, for instance, Marcello and Handel the protagonist rather expresses his feelings, mostly reflecting the tribulations of love. In such cases the scoring for two singers offers the opportunity to use harmony to expose the affetti in the text. That is the case in the duet which opens the programme, Interrotte speranze by Monteverdi. Other examples are Giuramente amoroso by Antonio Lotti and Se morto mi brami by Benedetto Marcello. Durante's duet Son io, barbara donna is also quite expressive, not so much through its harmonic progressions but through the remarkable twists and turns in the melody.

Many singers may feel that arias are better suited to show their brilliance than duets. However, in particular Handel's duets prove them wrong. The two duets on this disc bear witness to that, especially Sono lieto, fortunate which is about the happiness of love. Tanti strali is also a piece which makes the singers shine but includes much expression all the same, especially in the second section: "But if my soul still laments (...) it is because it burns and fears". Monteverdi's duet Montre vaga Angioletta is another example of a dramatic piece with some graphic text expression.

In the latter piece the violin turns up which is rather odd as it is scored for two voices and basso continuo. The contribution of the violin doesn't make any sense and also damages the performance because of the not so beautiful tone Riccardo Minasi produces. That is even worse in the Sonata in d minor by Domenico Scarlatti, one of his few sonatas for a solo instrument and bc. Minasi seems to put his own virtuosity in the spotlight as he plays with technical brilliance and sometimes at high speed, for instance in the allegro. However, the ensemble's aggressive attacks and the ugly sound Minasi produces makes this one of the worst performances I have ever heard. Subtlety seems not the name of Minasi's game anyway, as I have noticed in previous recordings.

It is a considerable blot on this recording which is very good as far as the vocal items are concerned. Roberta Invernizzi and Sonia Prina are seasoned interpreters of baroque vocal music and regularly participate in opera performances and recordings. I don't always enjoy what they do, and that goes especially for Ms Prina, whose sometimes wide vibrato is not to my liking. However, here she behaves quite well, and although she sometimes sings with some vibrato it didn't spoil my enjoyment and it doesn't damage the blending of the two voices. On the contrary, this is one of this disc's virtues: the two singers are evidently on the same wavelength and adapt their voices admirably to each other. The coloratura of both singers is impressive thanks to their vocal agility. Even more important is that they fully explore the expressive features of these duets. To that end they make an effective use of the tools singers of the 17th and early 18th centuries had at their disposal, including the messa di voce which was particularly important in the 17th century.

Considering these qualities the contribution of Riccardo Minasi is all the more regrettable. I don't see the need of the inclusion of an instrumental piece in this programme of duets anyway. A couple more of the latter would have been preferable. However, don't let this prevent you from purchasing this disc. If you like baroque vocal music you will greatly enjoy the fine music and great singing.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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