musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686 - 1768): "Aminta - Pastoral Cantatas"

Marina De Liso, mezzo-sopranoa
Stile Galante
Dir: Stefano Aresi

rec: August 2012, Urgnano, Castello Albani
Pan Classics - PC 10285 ( 2013) (69'51")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

D'Amor la bella pacea; Ecco che il primo alborea; Freme il mar, e col sussuroa; Ninfe e pastor che al bel Sebeto in rivaa; Partimenti del Sig. Nicola Porporab; Questa dunque la selvaa; Sonata for cello and bc in F

Claudia Combs, Eva Saladin, violin; Agnieszka Oszanca, cello; Gabriele Palomba, theorbo; Andrea Friggi, harpsichord (solob)

There seems to be a growing interest in the oeuvre of Nicola Antonio Porpora these days. Rightly so, because he was one of the most celebrated composers of opera in his days, and was especially famous as a singing teacher. Among his pupils were some of the best-known castratos. Porpora also considerably contributed to the genre of the chamber cantata, one of the most popular forms of vocal music in Italy in the first half of the 18th century.

Such cantatas were often allocated into the idyllic world of Arcadia, inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses, such as Aminta, Clori and Fileno. They often turn up in the cantatas which were written in large numbers. The character of these cantatas can be quite different, though. This disc bears witness to that. Ecco che il primo albore focuses on nature in Arcadia: "A flock of pretty birds flits joyously from tree to tree om outspread wings". In most cantatas there is somewhere a dark streak. Here it is the second aria whose B part contrasts strongly with the A part as it warns that "from cave or forest some rapacious beast might emerge" and devour the lamb who has lost the protection of the shepherd. Likewise Ninfe e pastor is a description of happy life at the bank of the river Sebeto. However, in the second aria we find a reference to an unrequited love.

D'Amor la bella pace is another sunny piece which begins with a description of a shepherd and a shepherdess enjoying their mutual love. In the second aria the protagonist expresses his love for the shepherdess, and although he has no reason for hope "my loving heart will always follow her". This aria is dominated by long coloraturas. The Arcadian surroundings don't exclude some pretty dramatic stuff. That is the case in Questa dunque la selva. Stefano Aresi writes that in many cantatas "the description of nature only has the function of making comprehensible the context in which the piece takes place. In this cantata, on the other hand, nature becomes an adversary to the female protagonist; she has been betrayed and now suffers from her ever increasing hallucinations". This cantata isn't only dramatic - which also comes to the fore in the frequent indications of tempo changes in the second recitative - but also quite virtuosic.

I have heard various recordings with cantatas by Porpora in recent years, and I always enjoyed them. I wasn't enthusiastic about every single piece here, though. That seems partly due to the performance. I have heard nicer voices than that of Marina De Liso. Her delivery is less than ideal, and I think she should have done more with the text. The recitatives are rhythmically too strict, and Ms De Liso's dynamic range seems too restricted. This is vocal chamber music, but even so there should be more dynamic shading. The fact that she often uses more vibrato than is historically justified doesn't make things any better.

The programme is extended by a sonata for cello and bc; the cello also has an obbligato part in three of the cantatas. It is included in many of Porpora's compositions which seems to indicate that he had a special interest in this instrument. The four Partimenti are unrealised bass lines, which were probably part of pedagogical material. They can be compared with the so-called 'basso continuo sonatas' by Bernardo Pasquini. The instrumental pieces and the instrumental parts in the cantatas are well played. It is just a shame that the vocal parts are not fully satisfying.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Marina De Liso
Stile Galante

CD Reviews