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Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 17170: Caino e Abele, Oratorio a 5 voci con stromenti

Andreana Galante (Eva), Nadia Ragni (Caino), soprano; Claudio Cavina (Abele), alto; Gianpaolo Fagotto (Testo), tenor; Furio Zanasi (Adamo, Satan, Iddio), bass
Il Teatro Armonico
Dir: Alessandro De Marchi

rec: April 1990, Rome, Chiesa di San Salvatore in Lauro
PanClassics - PC 10236 (R) (© 2011) (59'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Enrico Parizzi, Fabrizio Cipriani, Giulia Panzeri, Grit Dirckinck Holmfeld, Elisabeth Boden, Sebastiano Cassarą, violin; Paola Emanuele, Lorenzo Massotti, viola; Andrea Fossą, cello; Pierre Pitzl, viola da gamba; Roberto Sensi, violone; Luca Cola, double bass; Andrea Damiabi, theorbo; Viggo Mangor, archlute; Alessandro De Marchi, harpsichord; Attilio Cremonesi, organ

The second half of the 17th century is an interesting period in the history of Italian music. Unfortunately this era is not fully explored yet; only a handful of composers receive the attention they deserve. One of the most important aspects of this period is the development of the oratorio. It had come into existence around the mid-17th century and then gradually developed into a form which was pretty close to opera. This also resulted in a change of the venues where such pieces were performed. In the time of Giacomo Carissimi, who is often considered the founder of the genre, oratorios were usually performed during the meetings of congregations and religious confraternities. In the next decades these oratorios were performed in churches, but more and more also in the palaces of the nobility.

The character of the oratorio changed in various ways. Latin texts were replaced by texts in the vernacular, the testo which acted as a kind of 'Evangelist' gradually disappeared, and the text moved away from the biblical narrative which dominated the oratorios of Carissimi. With the oratorio Caino e Abele we are halfway the development from a strictly religious piece which was close to sacred concertos and dialogues to a piece which was too operatic to be part of the liturgy.

The content is biblical: the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Genesis 4). So are the characters: Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain, God and Satan. The unfolding of events is described by the Testo. The way the biblical story is told is the result of the imagination of the librettist, Giovanni Filippo Apolloni, and is motivated by dramatic considerations. This points into the direction of opera. The only episode in which the biblical text is quoted is when God asks Cain where his brother is.

The oratorio is divided into recitatives and arias. Some recitatives take the form of ariosos; the arias don't have dacapos yet. In addition there are some duets between either Adam and Eve or Abel and Cain. There are four choruses, two for three and two - at the beginning and at the end - for five voices. The oratorio was performed in 1671 at the Roman palace of Giovan Battista Borghese, prince of Sulmona. We even know which singers and players participated in the performances. He had three singers, a violinist and the keyboard player and composer Bernardo Pasquini at his service. In February 1671 two singers were added. In his liner notes Arnaldo Morelli suggests the participation of additional players "coming from their best students who, according to the common practice of the time, were obliged to play for their teachers without payment".

The parts of the two violins are scored with three instruments per part. This allows the contrast between soli and tutti in the string parts. These not only play some sinfonias, they also perform the ritornelli which conclude the arias. In addition movements from the Sonata a 4 (WoO 2) by Corelli are performed at various moments during the oratorio; the piece is preceded by the Sonata VI by Alessandro Stradella. The use of music by Corelli seems not too plausible, considering the date of performance of the oratorio. In Cain's recitative 'Dove, lasso, mio celo' towards the end of the oratorio Pasquini adds "con la lira", which according to Alessandro De Marchi "refers to a specific instrument (the lira da gamba) or to the playing of chords on the viola da gamba (in imitation of the lira). We opted for this second solution." According to New Grove the lira da gamba is a synonym of the lirone, and the character of this recitative clearly requires such an instrument. I don't know if at the time this recording was made the lirone was already rediscovered. Today it is frequently used in Italian music of the 17th century.

This is a reason why I would like to see a new recording of this oratorio. The character and quality of the music certainly would justify such an undertaking. Vocally this interpretation leaves also something to be desired. The singers have all fine voices and they sing really well, but from a dramatic point of view the performance is too restrained. The tempi could have been faster now and then, and there should have been more dynamic shading and also more ornamentation. The instrumental playing is also a little too flat. Having said that, as long as no new recording is available there is every reason to welcome this reissue.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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