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"Napoli galante"

Robin Johannsen, soprano
Teatro del Mondo
Dir: Andreas Küppers

rec: May 2016, Wiesbaden (D), Bergkirche
Perfect Noise - PN 1801 (© 2018) (66'50")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Concerto grosso per flauto, due violini, violetta e basso; Cristofaro CARESANA (1640-1709): La Rosa, cantata (Per formare); Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Marc'antonio e Cleopatra, serenata (Morte col fiero aspetto); Domenico LANZETTI (?-1800): Concerto for cello and orchestra in D; Gaetano LATILLA (1711-1788): Antigono, opera (Sol che apresso al genitore); Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Orfeo, cantata (Dove sei, Euridice); Domenico SARRO (SARRI) (1679-1744): Vespasiano, opera (Tu mi fuggi); Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Concerto for strings and bc No. 3 in F (largo); Olimpia, cantata (Le procelle); Giacomo SELLITO (1701-1763): Demofoonte, pasticcio (In te spero); Leonardo VINCI (1690-1730): Maria dolorata, oratorio (Come, o Dio)

Neapolitan music of the late 17th and the 18th centuries enjoys increasing popularity, as the regular release of recordings show. In 2019, the Festival Early Music Utrecht will be entirely devoted to music from Naples. Undoubtedly, the programme will include many pieces hardly anybody will have heard before. It is not that hard to find little-known repertoire, as many composers were active in Naples, especially in the mid-18th century, and a considerable number of them is badly represented on disc, if at all. The present disc can be considered a nice introduction to Neapolitan music of the late baroque and early classical period. It offers specimens of the various genres in vogue at the time, although obviously not every aspect is represented.

The music of Naples is mostly associated with one genre: opera, and one particular style, known as galant. That is not incorrect, but very one-sided. A lot of sacred music was written, often by composers who have become best-known for their stage works. The best-known example of Neapolitan sacred music is the Stabat mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. However, whereas that piece shows the influence of opera, Francesco Durante, one of the main composers of sacred music, was rather conservative and his sacred works are dominated by counterpoint. It is also often overlooked that Naples was the birthplace of instrumental music. The number of pieces for the recorder is remarkable, and there also seems to have been a kind of Neapolitan cello school.

It is nice that this disc includes extracts from operas as well as from its more intimate counterpart, the chamber cantata, and its sacred counterpart, the oratorio. We also get two substantial solo concertos. Moreover, the list of composers is a mixture of the familiar and the hardly-known.

The disc opens with a piece by arguably the most famous composer from Naples in history. Although Pergolesi died at a young age, he left a large corpus of compositions, of which only a small portion is really well-known. Exactly how many works he has written, is hard to establish, as his reputation in his own living days was such, that pieces by others were attributed to him. A considerable number of pieces in his work-list in New Grove is listed as doubtful or spurious. There is no doubt about the authenticity of his cantata Orfeo, a typical specimen of a composition in the galant idiom. The basic structure of the chamber cantata was laid down by Alessandro Scarlatti, a composer of an older generation who at the end of his life was increasingly considered old-fashioned. The aria 'Le procelle' is taken from his cantata Olimpia, scored for soprano, strings and basso continuo. In this aria the singer is supported by basso continuo alone, which Scarlatti uses to illustrate the text. Whereas Scarlatti was one of the main personalities in Italian music life around 1700, his contemporary Cristofaro Caresana is a largely unknown quantity. In particular Antonio Florio has taken care of his output and recorded several of his vocal works. His oeuvre comprises mainly sacred music; the work-list in New Grove does not include secular cantatas. However, the aria 'Per formare' is taken from his cantata La Rosa, and this is probably the result of further research into Caresana's oeuvre.

An important genre of the 18th century was the serenata, a piece in honour of a royal or aristocratic person. The subject was often taken from classical history or mythology. The former is the case with Johann Adolf Hasse's Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra, which was to be staged "on the country estate of the royal councillor Signor D. Carlo Carmignano in the summer of 1725", as is noted on the only known source. As Naples was under the rule of the Habsburg emperor, the serenata ends with a song of praise for Charles VI and his wife Elisabeth Christine. The status of the singers who took the two roles, attests to the importance of the occasion. The role of Cleopatra was sung by Carlo Broschi, later better known as Farinelli, who - although just 20 - was already famous. His opposing number was the mezzo-soprano Vittoria Tesi, who was 25 at the time, and was already known as far as Dresden.

Opera is represented with arias by Domenico Sarro, Gaetano Latilla and Giacomo Sellito. Sarro (or Sarri) is a little-known composer who wrote many vocal and instrumental works. 'Tu mi fuggi' is an aria for soprano with two obbligato cello parts. Gaetano Latilla is of a later generation; he composed secular and sacred vocal music, most of which has been lost. 'Sol che apresso al genetore' is an aria from his opera Antigono of 1775, based on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio. A particular form of opera was the pasticcio, a piece to which several composers contributed. Giacomo Sellito was one of three who were responsible for the composition of Demofoonte, based on another popular libretto from Metastasio's pen. The other contributors were Sarro, Francesco Mancini and Leonardo Leo.

The oratorios of the time were very different. Some were quite dramatic, and often not very different from opera. However, there were also more intimate works, for instance connected to Passiontide, as is the case with Maria dolorata by Leonardo Vinci, which is about Mary lamenting about the death of her son. Notable is the staccato on "sospiri" (sigh out); it returns on the last line: "Now he's dying, he's already dead". The voice and the instruments die down, and there is no dacapo. One would wish this oratorio to be performed and recorded complete.

The above-mentioned Sarro as well as Alessandro Scarlatti are both represented in an interesting collection of sonatas or concertos for recorder, known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. The recorder seems to have enjoyed a remarkable popularity in Naples. That was further stimulated by Count Harrach, who came from Vienna and acted as Habsburg Viceroy in Naples from 1728 to 1733. He apparently was a great lover of the recorder as his library includes many pieces for the instrument. One of them is the anonymous Concerto grosso per flauto, due violini, violetta e basso. It is considerably longer than the concertos in the 1725 collection, and requires great skills from the soloist. No less substantial is the Concerto in D by Domenico Lanzetti, of whom little is known; according to New Grove he may be related to the cellist and composer Salvatore Lanzetti, who was also from Naples. This concerto brings us to the early classical period; notable is that in the tutti the strings are joined by two horns.

These two concertos receive outstanding performances by Kerstin Fahr and Lea Rahel Bader, whom I have heard before in various recordings. Here they confirm their credentials as very fine performers on their respective instruments. Robin Johannsen is an experienced singer, who often performs the kind of repertoire which is the subject of this disc. She has a good feeling for the typical idiom of this mostly galant repertoire. She resists the temptation to do too much, but there is certainly no lack of drama, where it is needed, and much expression. The aria by Vinci is a very fine example of her sensitive approach. Here and there she uses too much vibrato, but it is by far not as bad and as frequent as in so many recordings of baroque vocal music these days. Teatro del Mondo does full justice to its name, and fully explores the features of the instrumental parts, including the more theatrical of them.

All in all, this is an interesting introduction to Neapolitan music.

On a technical note: the English translations of the lyrics don't synchronise with the original texts. No. 2 is a translation of track 8, No. 13 belongs to track 2, No. 8 to track 9, No. 9 to track 14 and No. 14 to track 13. It is also annoying that the track-list does not mention the pieces from which the arias are taken; this information is given in the liner-notes.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Robin Johannsen
Teatro del Mondo

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