musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1757): "Salve Regina"

Carlos Mena, altoa; Nicolau de Figueiredo, harpsichordb
Orquestra Barroca de Sevillac
Dir: Nicolau de Figueiredo

rec: Nov 2007, Sevilla, Capilla del Centro Virgen de los Reyes
Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla - OBS-002 (© 2009) (67'07")

Charles AVISON (1709-1770): Concerto V in d minorc [2]; Concerto X in Dc [2]; Domenico SCARLATTI: Doppo lungo servire, cantataac; Narciso, opera: Si, si, tu ben lo sai, ariaac; Vorrebbe la speranza, ariaac; Salve Regina in Aac; Sinfonia in Cc; Sonata in d minor (K 5)b [1]; Sonata in d minor (K 9)b [1]; Sonata in d minor (K 10)b [1]; Sonata in c minor (K 11)b [1]; Sonata in d minor (K 41)b [1]

Sources: [1] Domenico Scarlatti, Essercizi per gravicembalo, 1738/39; [2] Charles Avison, 12 Concertos … Done from 2 Books of Lessons for the Harpsichord Composed by Sig. Domenico Scarlatti, 1744

Surely, by now, most music-lovers know that Domenico Scarlatti wrote more than keyboard sonatas. Even so it makes sense to release recordings in which this is demonstrated. This disc presents some specimens from the various genres to which he contributed. The largest part of Scarlatti's vocal and instrumental music was written before he moved to the Iberian peninsula. There are some exceptions, though, as his famous setting of the Salve Regina proves. The cover of the manuscript says that it was "the last of his works, composed in Madrid not long before his death". It is a piece which is dominated by text expression, and despite the date of composition a typical example of the baroque style. Carlos Mena proves to be the ideal interpreter, bringing warmth and passion to this motet on a text which is a product of the veneration of Mary.

The catalogue of Scarlatti's oeuvre includes the titles of 13 operas which he composed between 1703 and 1718. From the majority only a number of arias have survived. The opera Amor d'un ombra e gelosia d'un'aura is remarkable. It was first performed in 1714 in Rome. In 1720 it was performed again in the King's Theatre in London, under the title Narciso. It was Scarlatti's only opera to be performed outside Italy. That same year the overture and the arias were printed. Two of them are included in the programme. The scoring is for voice, violins and bc. The liner-notes don't mention whether this is the original scoring: in the theatre the strings would probably have included the viola. The edition could well have been directed towards the growing market of amateur performers who liked to play opera arias at home.

The number of instrumental works by Scarlatti is limited. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France contains a collection of 17 sinfonias of which 16 are authenticated as by Scarlatti. These are not independent compositions but rather written as overtures to operas. In only three cases the opera to which they belong can be traced. This suggests that some of Scarlatti's operas may well have been lost completely, and that he wrote more than the 13 which the catalogue mentions. The Sinfonia in C is one which was probably written for a now lost opera. It comprises three short movements: presto, andante e staccato, allegrissimo. The operatic origins of this piece are well exposed by the orchestra.

Domenico's father Alessandro was a prolific composer of chamber cantatas. Domenico himself also composed a considerable number. They not only date from his Italian period; some of them were written for the famous castrato Farinelli, who lived in Madrid at the time Scarlatti was there. Many of his cantatas can't be dated, but Doppo lungo servire can: the manuscript in the Santini Collection in Münster gives 2 July 1702 as the date of composition. It is a typical example of pastoral poetry which is set by Scarlatti in a sequence of three pairs of recitative and aria. The first aria is in a lively tempo with an infectious rhythm, the second is in a quiet tempo, whereas the cantata ends with a beautiful 'aria a la siciliana'. Notable is the second aria for the scoring for voice and bc alone; the strings only play a ritornello at the end. Carlos Mena gives a very fine interpretation. The two lyrical arias are nicely sung, but Mena also has a good sense for the theatrical parts of this work, as shown by both the first aria and the recitatives. The use of a full string ensemble of eight violins is questionable. The scoring is for alto, 2 violins and bc, and as this kind of cantata was written for private performances it is highly unlikely that more than two violins were deployed.

Although Scarlatti's non-keyboard compositions are recorded now and then, he still is known first and foremost as a composer of keyboard sonatas. His reputation in the 18th century was already based on that part of his oeuvre. The first edition of some of his sonatas was printed in London in 1738 or 1739. In 1739 Thomas Roseingrave published another collection of sonatas. They were very popular in England, probably more than anywhere else. Further evidence of that is given by the concerti grossi which were published in 1744 by Charles Avison. Most movements are based on sonatas by Scarlatti, but some contain original material by Avison. In these arrangements Avison followed in the footsteps of his hero, Francesco Geminiani, who had arranged the sonatas for violin and bc opus 5 by Corelli into concerti grossi. The disc interestingly ends with five sonatas which are used in the two Avison concertos on this disc. It is proof of Avison's craftsmanship that one doesn't immediately experience his concertos as arrangements. One has to know Scarlatti's sonatas really well to recognize them. That makes the addition of the originals all the more interesting. The probably best-known is the Sonata in d minor (K 9) which is arranged in the last movement of Avison's Concerto X in D. As far as the performances are concerned: Nicolau de Figueiredo plays the sonatas very well on an appropriate instrument. The concertos are also nicely done, but maybe a bit too extraverted: it does sound more Spanish or Italian than English. I am inclined to think English musicians of Avison's time will have played them in a somewhat more restrained manner. But this is a minor footnote to a most enjoyable and compelling recording. The programme convincingly shows 'the other side' of Domenico Scarlatti as well as his influence at his contemporaries.

The liner-notes are not quite accurate. To some extent this may be due to the translation, like the reference to Alessandro Scarlatti's reputation in the late 18th century, rather than the late 17th. Unfortunate is the translation of 'sinfonia' as 'symphony'. Scarlatti's sinfonias are very different from the classical symphonies. "Over many generations, many of the greatest composers - Palestrina, Victoria, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Carissimi, Kaiser, Charpentier, Hasse or Gluck - left us an exiguous amount of instrumental music, and not a single note written for harpsichord or organ", Joseba Berrocal writes. That is rather inaccurate: Palestrina, Victoria, Monteverdi and Carissimi left no instrumental music. Hasse has written at least a set of six sonatas for keyboard. I assume 'Kaiser' refers to Reinhard Keiser. The title of Scarlatti's cantata is given as Doppo lungo servire. Is this the title in the manuscript? If so, New Grove probably 'corrected' it into "dopo" in its work-list. My last remark concerns the acoustic: there is a bit too much reverberation, and as the orchestra is perhaps a shade too large anyway, this makes the sound even bigger which is rather unfortunate considering that most of the music was written for private performance.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla

CD Reviews